Thursday, 17 January 2013
An all-female cast of Julius Caesar is turning heads
By Steve BarfieldIt is a brave, adventurous and ultimately rewarding decision by director Phyllida Lloyd to stage Julius Caesar with an all-female cast. While some purists may balk at the idea of women playing men’s roles in a play based on historical fact, there seems no doubt that as an audience we gain a great deal. We are encouraged to consider the contemporary, shifting relations of gender, violence and power as we reflect upon what it means for women to play such roles as Brutus and Caesar, as well as watching some of our most illustrious actresses expand their repertoire, such as Harriet Walter’s particularly bewitching, androgynous Brutus.
I sometimes find all-male versions of Shakespeare offer little more than the falsity of the theme-park ride, giving the pretend experience of a lost Elizabethan world and catering to those who see Shakespeare as a deathly museum; in contrast, this angry production is alive, vital and genuinely theatrical, even if it is not perfect.
The staging concept is of a play-withina- play – somewhat like Timberlake Wertenbacker’s Our Country’s Good – an often-brutal production of Shakespeare’s play by female prisoners in a women’s prison. The play begins with the cast lined up for inspection in prison uniforms and at points the prison warders intervene, so we are always aware that it is a fuming, covert rebellion against authority than animates the proceedings. Particularly striking is the stripped-down auditorium with ample CCTVs and we are seated in institutional plastic chairs. There are electric, fluid scenes set in the forum, after Caesar’s assassination, where the surging crowd switch allegiances from Brutus to Mark Antony in a few heartbeats and the use of nihilistic, thrash metal music to convey the battle scenes.
Harriet Walter’s spare Brutus is a wonderful combination of anguished, procrastinating nobility and deep pessimism, seemingly conscious that nothing the conspirators do will change the people’s desire for authority. Jenny Jules’s angry Cassius is more central than usual, hopeless rather than a schemer; while Cush Jumbo’s Mark Antony is a cynical mistress of rhetoric and realpolitik. Frances Barber’s leather-coated Caesar is perhaps too obviously an oppressor, almost a simple thug. However, this is a prison and a questioning of the nature of power that is at once insistent, pitiless and futile.
Until 9 February at the Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham Street, London WC2: 0844-871 7624, www.donmarwarehouse.com
Daily tip from the lady archive
“THERE is great satisfaction to be had in properly ironed garments that look as if they have just come out of the shop window.”The Lady. You Can’t Iron? 19th February, 1953
Q: The Queen has received a £5m boost in the funds she receives from the taxpayer to carry out her official duties. Do you approve?
Yes - the Queen does a great job and is well worth it - 59.5%
No - the UK economy is struggling and this is unfair - 40.5%