Sussex Playwrights Reviews: Julius Caesar

Brighton Shakespeare Company

Brighton Open Air Theatre

A unique experience – reviewing two different performances over two nights as the elements put in a spectacular first night appearance in Brighton Shakespeare Company’s tense, intense and cool new production of Julius Caesar at the Brighton Open Air Theatre.

Dreadful portents and bad omens set the dark mood of the play, and on the first night, that uneasy threatening sense spilled out into the real world. Crows flapping about over the darkening space, distant sirens in the city and a lowering sky, sullen thunder, flashes of lightning – the theatricality was spectacular and we were riveted. Called off at the interval with¬† ‘cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!’ – well, we had to come back for more.

Shakespeare’s tale of unrest, mistrust, angry mobs, betrayals and conspiracies feels uneasily real right now, and is presented in BSC’s signature pared down style, this time inspired by a Tarantino aesthetic.

The mood’s sombre, a simple black and white pallette, dark suits, shades and little black dresses, with washes of red light for the conspiratorial exchanges on the bare green stage.

Taught, punchy direction by Mark Brailsford with Sarah Mann and Kerren Garner, and some stylish unpleasantness from the fight arranging team Jack Kristiansen and Josh Plummer mean the show zips along with energy and pace.

Julian Parkin’s Caesar is a restrained and distant being, a god of human frailties.

As the conspirators, Sean McLevy’s blazing Cassius, Deborah Kearne’s slyly amused and knowing Casca and Stewart Barham’s infinite sadness over what he must do light up their shifting, fatally intertwined relationships.

Andrew Crouch as a youthful, commanding Mark Anthony delivers a magnificent performance, huge-voiced and passionate.

Kerren Garner’s Portia and Tia Dunn’s Calpurnia show another side of the politics of powerful men; the wives who must bear the spotlight and share their husbands on a huge stage. Demanding then begging for attention, notice and consideration, these are too-brief glimpses of two formidable women.

Great support from a multi-roling team, George Derbyshire, Mark Brailsford, Jules Craig, AW King, Katy Matthews and Oscar Smart, and a sweet and ultimately heartrending turn by Phoebe Elliot as the boy Lucius.

The play continues through Sunday at BOAT. 

Details at http://www.brightonshakespearecompany.co.uk/

Philippa Hammond