Julius Caesar

Of the two offerings of Julius Caesar that the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School are offering this year, this review concerns the all-male version: a show brimming with great ideas yet somehow falling short despite this. It was a conversation that I overheard outside the venue which summed up the production for me. “Did you enjoy the show?” one mother asked her child. “Yes, I think so” replied the girl, “But I didn’t really understand it at all.”

This show is bursting with potential and, with a rebalancing to better accommodate their target audience, could be even better.

The six-strong male cast do an admirable attempt at creating a version of Julius Caesar for children. All six definitely display the right sort of energy and enthusiasm for the job. Maanuv Thiara particularly stands out for his role as a news anchor linking various events of the play together in a digestible manner for the young audience. Dylan David Wood as Cassius also shines, particularly for his part in fuelling audience participation. Audience participation is just one of many good concepts used by the play – the numerous conspirators stabbing Caesar are made up by members of the audience using cue cards. The problem is that too many concepts are crammed into this show at once and thus all are used sparingly at best.

This ultimately creates a feeling of indecision about the play. Do we keep the original language or do we rewrite the whole thing? A middle path is chosen, but it ends up feeling like two different productions. On the one hand, we have the new text which feels like part of a good children’s show, combined with music, choreography and inherent humour. On the other, we keep on having this good children’s show interrupted by some fairly humdrum amateur Shakespeare. It seems like a bizarre criticism to make, but being more selective with the Shakespearean text used would have benefitted the production enormously. Some sections of Shakespearean text are relentlessly long and not delivered with the same poise or assuredness as the modern sections in between. For instance, the aftermath of Caesar’s death between Antony and the conspirators lacks tension or purpose from the perspective of a child; too much is unsaid and made too subtle for the young audience. Because of this, some of these scenes end up alienating the actual target audience of the show: children. Having had wonderful audience interaction with kids playing the conspirators, the end of the play and build-up to Philippi seems to revert to standard Shakespeare and the show forgets who it is meant to be for.

It must be said that there are many positive aspects to enjoy. The choreography and use of music is a delight to experience and easy for the younger members of the audience to appreciate. The modern day setting and use of news broadcasts is an excellent decision and pays off in many ways, such as the choice to set Caesar’s funeral scene on a prime-time talk show and Mark Antony’s amusing phone-calls to keep Octavian in the loop. It’s thoroughly enjoyable for adults; perhaps just more so than for children. This show is bursting with potential and, with a rebalancing to better accommodate their target audience, could be even better.

Reviews by James Beagon

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

This production of Julius Caesar is a stripped down version of Shakespeare's most accessible masterpiece of Roman history for audiences aged 7+. This brand new version, specially adapted for the understanding of young audiences, re-imagines the play in a modern world of media manipulation, digital information and 24-hour news, whilst retaining the power and beauty of Shakespeare's original verse. The second year acting students from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School present two separate productions: one, an all-male cast of six, and the other, an all-female cast of four. A treat for all the family!

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