Edinburgh Fringe 2015
All-action take on one of Shakespeare’s best-loved tragedies. We’re in a 24/7 newsroom that’s covering the impending arrival of Caesar in Rome as would-be assassins circle. Cue some fine words to camera from Brutus and a more prosaic approach to a power-grab from his co-conspirators. A great way to introduce Shakespeare to a younger audience.
It’s over forty years now since I found myself bored to death studying Julius Caesar for my English O Level. Page after page of dense prose and iambic pentameter wafted over me as I struggled to come to grips with what is, essentially, a pretty simple plot. Emperor succumbs to hubris, conspirators assemble to murder him, do the deed, are then completely outflanked by the guile of someone they thought might be on their side and fall on their swords in a dramatic finale.
I’d have saved myself a lot of angst and got to enjoy Shakespeare at a much younger age if only Take Thou That (with Bristol Old Vic Theatre School) had been around to bring the seemingly dull words on the page to life. In this interesting double bill adapted specially with a younger audience in mind (four girls perform the show one day, six guys provide a completely different take on it the next), they provide colour, meaning and fun as they set the piece around a 24/7 newsroom, with its hacks forever chasing the latest political scandal as they seek to keep the feral news-media beast fed and watered.
Cue Brutus being interviewed for the morning news-round on Caesar’s impending arrival in Rome, with speculation as to whether he will accept the crown but concern that this might result in his assuming rather too much power for some of Rome’s lofty senators.
But, with such a small cast, how can Cassius summon up the multitude of conspirators required to assassinate the eponymous victim in this tragedy? Simple. Get the audience to troop up and do the dirty. And give them each a cue card with a line on it so they feel part of the action together with a weapon of subtle destruction that was different in both shows. Great fun and an easy way to engage a young audience.
With Caesar despatched, the recriminations and civil unrest can start, providing our newshounds with an ocean of material to swim in and some moments of really high drama. Costume changes are fast and furious, riots tightly choreographed and the use of props and the simple set inventive. Those watching are never out of the action either, being called upon to act as a studio audience (cue applause and cheering) and getting “voxpopped” by roving reporters in addition to their role in getting rid of Caesar.
Fast-paced, true to the plot and with a nice balance between modern English and the original Shakespearian text, this is the perfect way to engage with anyone new to the Bard’s work. Much better than sitting in a classroom reading all that dense prose.