Julius Caesar at Bristol Old Vic

The mob is waiting in the wings, as eager to denounce vociferously those whom they believe to be traitors as they are to big-up or tear down those in power. Indeed, they are a fickle bunch and quick to change allegiance, believing the truths of a few clever wordsmiths and/or politco-military rabble rousers.

The parallels with politics throughout the ages is obvious, from the Rome of Julius Caesar to that which is happening today – countries that espouse Strongman Mentality, for example, or the proliferation of fake news, the discontent of the masses.

This production of Shakepeare’s Julius Caesar is set in modern times, three highly experienced actors representing the ‘Old’ whilst the students of BOV Theatre School signify the exuberance of youth and change, both on stage and off.

The cohort that conspires against Julian Glover’s calm and populist Caesar-on-the-cusp-of-Dictatorship is headed by a conscience-led and guilt-ridden Brutus (Freddie Bowerman) and a conniving, cheeky-faced Cassius (Edward Stone). Their supporters and co-conspiratures Casca and Decius Brutus/Decia are given female roles, the former acted by a wonderfully cynical Eleanor House and the latter by a sly and manipulative Rosie Gray, while Rudolph Mdlongwa doubles up as Sinna and Lepidus and Afolabi Alli takes a stage-commanding role as Metellus.

Thwarting this band of assassins and would-be leaders is the testosterone-heavy Man of the People, Marc Anthony (Ross O’Donnellan), who turns the mob with his ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears’ speech, whipping them up in a frenzy of Rampage and Destruction. Anthony, a former favourite of the murdered Caesar, is joined in military might by Caesar’s niece, Octavia, played by a cold-as-ice Rosy MeEwan, whose steely eyed clarity of mind tells him and us that she really holds the power here.

This is excellent acting by everyone involved, including Alice Kerrigan who provides comedy value and sincerity of devotion as Lucia, dedicated servant of Brutus and Sarah Livingstone’s tortured, wifely Portia. The crowd scenes are enough to raise you to your feet, blowing whistles, shouting slogans and desecrating Sarah Mercadé’s towering and fascist-inspired set, backed up by Jessica Edkin’s excellent war-like sound design. There is a particularly impressive scene of a massive storm, where the creative team’s lighting, set and sound dovetail to highlight fully the chaos and uncertainty surrounding this Rome.

Director Simon Dormandy has brought Bristol Old Vic and Bristol Old Vic Theatre School together to create an enjoyable evening, where a Shakespeare classic speaks to us all in an easily digestible way.

Julius Caesar runs at Bristol Old Vic until 1st July


Image by Simon Purse, with thanks

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