Julius Caesar | Bell ShakespeareLeft – Colin Moody and Kate Mulvany. Photo – Joe-Sabljak

Plays based around politics and power rarely, if ever, go out of fashion. It is no wonder then, that Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is one of his most widely performed plays. Passion, power struggles, revenge, politics and an assassination are all contained in a few hours on stage.

Directed by Bell Shakespeare’s Associate Artistic Director Peter Evans, this is the company’s touring production for 2011, and its five show run in Perth sits comfortably in the middle of the tour. It is a slick production, and the cast are well bedded into the characters without looking tired.

The text has been cut and reworked extensively by Evans and performer Kate Mulvany and is well executed. It is a sharp production, and the intention is obvious in most instances, particularly when Cassius (Mulvany), Brutus (Colin Moody) or Mark Antony (Daniel Frederiksen) interact.

Evans and the creative team have gone for an abstract, “no name, no place” feel to the production. The only references to Rome are in the text and the huge monolithic column that is fenced off in one corner. Designer Anna Cordingley has kept the set simple, with a wide expanse of dark grey carpet as the main performing area surrounded on three sides by 21 chairs. Apart from the column in the corner, it gives the impression of a large waiting room, and I pondered before the show if that was the intention. The costumes are simple; neutral blacks, whites, creams and grey suits and dresses.

The uncomplicated lighting design by Paul Jackson lends itself to a touring production, and puts the spotlight (literally in some cases) back onto the performers. Kelly Ryall’s sound design is much like Cordingley’s design and overall setting, intangible and unable to be tied down to any time or place. The cast’s use of microphones placed on either side of the stage was effective if a little distracting at times.

Distracting also was the performers’ entrances and exits, as they paused noticeably before stepping on or off the grey expanse through to the chairs and backstage. Whilst it was an interesting visual point when they all moved at the same time, I couldn’t fathom the reason behind it as a whole.

Bell Shakespeare works extensively as an Acting Company throughout the year rather than bringing performers together for one show at a time. This is evident in the strong performances from the entire cast, and the cohesive nature of the performance (although 8 weeks of touring will have also helped).

Alex Menglet as Caesar was a classic mob godfather complete with accent, arrogant yet aging. What he lacked (which may in part be due to text cuts) was the menace and/or tyranny I’ve enjoyed in other Caesars.

Colin Moody’s Brutus only came alive in the later scenes between Cassius and Brutus, and I felt Frederiksen as Antony took some time to ‘warm up’. Thankfully, he was right on form for his “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears” speech.

There is always one person that your eye is drawn to, and for me that was Mulvany as Caius Cassius. I saw more in the character of Cassius than I ever have before, and her performance was electric. It is Cassius who reminds the audience why Julius Caesar is still so popular;
How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted over
In states unborn and accents yet unknown!

Perth doesn’t get to see Shakespeare done well that often. This is a solid, cohesive production and well worth seeing. It is easy to follow, easy to understand, and doesn’t butcher the beautiful language of Shakespeare. Catch it whilst you can.

Bell Shakespeare presents
by William Shakespeare

Director Peter Evans

Venue: State Theatre Centre of Western Australia | Cnr William and Roe Sts, Perth
Dates: 17 – 20 August, 2011
Tickets: $65 – $25
Bookings: BOCS Ticketing  +61 8 9484 1133

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