Review: NT Live–Julius Caesar9 April 2018
If you thought Shakespeare productions are all made up of just the same old boring ten-minute old-English monologues, then you are wrong, and Nicholas Hytner’s production of Julius Caesar can prove it.
Broadcast live from the Bridge Theatre in London, director Hytner creates an immersive, interactive performance reminiscent of the short musical productions at Disneyland (bet you didn’t see that comparison coming).
Production designer Bunny Christie ingeniously makes use of mechanical platforms that rise and fall from the floor to create minimalist sets around an audience that is made part of the play. This gives the actors the impression of talking directly to the audience and the audience the impression of peeking into the characters’ private conversations instead of passively watching on. The standing audience is constantly shuffled around the changing platforms throughout the play and made to participate in chants, holding up posters depicting Caesar and his telling slogan ‘Do this!’ and singing along to the rock band performance at the beginning of the play passed off as a pro-Caesar assembly (the musical theme recurs several times throughout the play–an unexpected but welcome addition to a Shakespeare production). The surround-sound effects and intense lighting add to the scenes, making the battle scenes feel like a marvellous virtual-reality experience.
The talented cast manage to bring to life the dense script with passion, emotion, and dry humour. Michelle Fairley is particularly noteworthy as she makes Cassius just the right balance of indignant and reasonable, quickly leading the audience to sympathy. The bookish Brutus (Ben Whishaw) also does the same, making his passing sexist remarks later in the play feel even more like a betrayal. Despite the possibility of being overshadowed by the major talent brought in by the main actors, the supporting characters, namely Casca (Adjoa Andoh) and Lucius (Fred Fergus), manage to steal a few scenes with well-timed comedic delivery.
The play runs for two hours and 15 minutes with no interval, but it goes by quicker than you’d think. Just as you prepare for the suspense and plot twists (only if you haven’t read the play, of course) in the battle between Antony (David Morrissey) and Brutus, the play ends. I was one of the few people in the theatre who were under 50, but I think the production can still appeal to all ages, especially as the familiar actors, sense of humour, and cinematic direction are so well-loved by the younger generation.