I am in raptures from seeing this tonight. I ran out of superlatives before we made it to the theatre exit.
Proof (as if proof were needed) that men need not be the driving force in our theatre. London especially is blessed with a plethora of outstanding actresses, known and unknown, young and old, of every ethnicity.
The collective feel could be mocked as a relic from the hippy troupes of the 70s but trust me: it was glorious. Set against the backdrop of a women’s prison (a perfect advert for Clean Break, who support this production, a theatre company formed to tell the stories of imprisoned women).
Dame Harriet Walter was everything she always is, and her Brutus had a quiet compassion and emotional weariness that I’ve never seen in the role before. Frances Barber was larger than life, and yet restrained in the moments where it mattered. Caesar’s love for Calpurnia is a tangible thing, not the patronising dismissal of a wife that I’ve watched before.
Cush Jumbo was a Mark Anthony so passionate and cunning I forgot I don’t usually root for him (her. Fuck it, gender is a construct and this show threw everything about binary out of the damn window). As for Jenny Jules as Cassius, talk about your heart and soul. A driving force in every sense, and so adept with the Shakespearian words that I forgot I wasn’t listening to everyday speech.
There’s flow here, the breaks to the prison a welcome relief in such an immersive experience. Here, Caesar is killed amongst the audience itself, captured on screen simultaneously so nobody misses the slightest flinch of this prolonged betrayal. The trust in the company is palpable, and even the nudity is non-exploitative in a way that actually serves the piece.
I loved it.I revelled in it. I want to go back once a week and catch every last nuance.
I called it an analogy for the modern feminism movement over dinner afterwards, and while it needs more thought, I stand by it. Caesar is the good idea turned monstrous by popularity, the Greer or the Dworkin (and perhaps now the Caitlin Moran) who makes a splash, who captures the imagination, but one who worries the others in that field when they become too powerful, one who can’t be allowed to continue speaking for all.
If you can see it somehow between now and February 9th, please do. Julius Caesar was the first real play I ever saw, my first real theatre experience beyond pantomime and school halls. From that three-handed production to this masterpiece, I’ve come full-circle in my experience of theatre. I wouldn’t trade a second of it for the world.