A review of The Shakespeare Company’s Julius Caesar
The iconic play through the eyes of an English Major
By Sabrina Harmata, Contributor
I have never seen a Shakespearean play performed live before, so I really didn’t know what to expect of The Shakespeare Company’s production of Julius Caesar. My Shakespeare class had just finished discussing it so I knew the gist of the play, but I also knew that no two Shakespeare productions are ever the same. Directors are free to interpret the plays however they want, the possibilities are endless.
Most of the time, possibilities are a good thing, however, this production did some incredibly odd things with them. The first of these being having an entirely different Brutus than the one Shakespeare depicts. With those who are not familiar with the historical figure, Brutus was one of the main players in Julius Caesar’s infamous assassination. In Shakespeare’s play, Brutus deals with conflicting demands of honour and patriotism, as well as the all important act of betrayal. Unfortunately, this depiction of the iconic character was odd to say the least. In the first half of the play, the proud and noble Brutus was shown as super easy to manipulate. With his hands clasped in front of his body, with his gaze always falling to the floor, Brutus didn’t radiate any self-confidence, something that felt disingenuous. After the intermission this all changed. Suddenly, Brutus was in charge and his voice was much more demanding and confident than it was in the first half. This drastic shift in character from the first half of the play to the second, left the audience wondering if they were even watching the same person or if they had missed some important character development during the intermission.
Although Brutus’ portrayal was super unbalanced, he was surprisingly not the worst part of the play. The crowd of plebeians that have such a crucial role to play in most productions of Julius Caesar, was reduced to a mindless mob, simply agreeing with whomever happens to be standing in front of them at any given point in time. This made Antony’s persuading personality, something that is usually so vital for the play to work, seem useless. The mob gave the impression that they would approve no matter what he said. He could’ve said outright, “Brutus is a terrible Roman,” or even worse, “pineapple does go on pizza,” and the crowd still would’ve cheered in agreement.
Even though I wasn’t a huge fan these particular characterizations, I did really enjoy the addition of the trench coats in certain scenes. To me, they seemed to emphasize the unity amongst those within the conspiracy against Caesar. Especially in the scene where Cassius brings the conspirators to Brutus’ house. Whenever anyone came on stage wearing a trench coat, I was instantly reminded of The Matrix. In my opinion, the trench coats were an allusion to Neo and the rebellion’s conspiracy to fight against the tyrannical Smiths. I thought this was a bold stylistic choice and it payed off, as it really elevated the play in my eyes. After all, who doesn’t like The Matrix?
What I liked most about this production was the way it seemed to be much more centered on Caesar himself. Although the play is named after him, Caesar tends to be a minor character, as he’s murdered halfway through the play. In this performance, the play started with Julius Caesar cutting out Pompeii’s heart in the very first scene. Usually, Pompeii’s defeat is not shown and the play starts with a conversation amongst plebeians. In addition to this new first scene, Caesar also makes an appearance in the end of the very last scene, after Antony and Octavius discover Brutus’ body. By beginning and ending with Caesar, this focuses the play on him instead of the other characters, emphasizing that he is the driving force that moves the play along. Caesar’s importance was also underlined by the broken statue of his face used as the background, meaning he was present in every scene. Unlike most renditions of Julius Caesar, this production actually did live up to its title.