Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
Is this London, or the USA? No, this is Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and it’s the Capitol in Rome, not Washington. We’re about to witness the downfall of “the greatest Roman of them all”: Brutus, “an honourable man”, driven by his honest belief in political integrity and his distrust of hereditary power to carry out a terrible deed: the murder of his friend, his country’s leader.
This is William Shakespeare’s archetypal tragedy, which explores the dilemma of a good man driven to perform evil deeds by his own beliefs. As Gemma Fairlie, the director, points out, recent productions of Julius Caesar have often been set in such countries as modern Iraq and Serbia. The play poses timeless questions: individual conscience versus political expediency; where should power lie in society; the nature of honour, and above all the role of the mob and the ability of politicians to manipulate us if we let them.
As a member of the audience in Holy Trinity Church last night, I was part of the mob, waving placards at the direction of Caesar’s minders, applauding his self-congratulatory speeches, and finally, after an interval tour of the war-zone that’s the consequence of Caesar’s assassination, signing up to one of the rival factions’ armies.
As usual, the Guildford Shakespeare Company have produced a mind-blowing production. All the players turn in magnificent performances, most in several different roles, and the principals are very powerful indeed. Noel White as Caesar plays the public charisma and private vanity and insecurity of the great man perfectly. Brutus, played by Johanne Murdock in this gender-neutral production, is powerful in the second half as the commander of the conspirators’ army. Her response as her dying friend Julius looks up gasping “Et tu, Brute” brought a tear to my eye.
Jack Wharrier as Mark Anthony is magnificent; he delivers the speech that turns the mob against the conspirators with such passion that “Brutus is an honourable man”, at first a compliment, becomes spitting irony and rabble-rousing rhetoric. Society is shattered into anarchy.
Design, lighting and sound are wonderful. I was particularly impressed by the lightning effects that flashed up on the high stained glass windows above us. The company's imaginative use of this unusual dramatic space is reminiscent of the Jacobean theatre in the great houses of the time. I loved the conducted tour of the "war zone" behind the scenes, in the interval, too.
This is another palpable hit (forgive the pun and change of play!) for the Guildford Shakespeare Company.
Julius Caesar is at Holy Trinity Church until 25th February. Tickets from https://www.guildford-shakespeare-company.co.uk/tickets.php
or on the door - but don't risk missing this - seats are limited!
This review is also published on Essential Surrey's What's On page.
http://www.essentialsurrey.co.uk/theatre-arts/review-guildford-shakespeare-society-julius-caesar/ with photographs,