Pros: Competent cast and some interesting analogies.
Cons: A meandering second half, hushed diction and some clumsy design drag this production down.
If you haven’t ever seen a play at the Saatchi Gallery, you would not be alone. Proud Haddock’s Julius Caesar is the first production to grace the Chelsea art space hitherto reserved for Fine Art. This is a new company with an ethos directed at producing great British playwrights… I hadn’t seen Julius Caesar in a long while and I was intrigued to see what interesting opportunities an art gallery venue might offer.
In my opinion, works by great British playwrights like Shakespeare, Coward and Bennett are in no way under-produced or under-appreciated (if anything, quite the opposite). So I was expecting Proud Haddock to try give a fresh twist to the plays they stage in order to stand out. Sadly, as to something different and exciting, this production didn’t offer much. The problem wasn’t that it was bad; it was just that it felt a bit bland to me. Although there was a clear decision made with the interpretation (to evoke the modern day corporate world) not enough was done with it. It felt like the piece started out on an interesting journey but that it abandoned it part way through.
No doubt Julius Caesar is a tricky play. Shakespeare seems to lose heart – or his head – two thirds of the way through, reintroducing minor character from the beginning and throwing up new ones we haven’t heard of. I get it. But I couldn’t help but feel that more could have been done to avoid the slow pace that dominated post-interval.
One thing that could have added some excitement has the design, which I felt was a big wasted opportunity. The set was dictated by a white backdrop, which was used incredibly sparingly as a means for projection at the beginning and end of the first half, and then in moderation in the second. More projection is just one of the ways I could think to incorporate this versatile set piece more into the production; shadow play, Caesar’s murder and Caesar’s ghost are amongst the others.
Another slip up was the projection of the actors’ voices: obviously a gallery – unlike a theatre – is designed to absorb rather than amplify sounds but it’s not the hardest place in the world to perform. For instance, there are voice techniques used for outdoor theatre which would have helped the situation. The actors need to find a way to make themselves heard to people beyond the fifth row.
The rhythm also felt strange, with some odd cuts lurking in the script, charging through the opening few acts (read: before Shakespeare gave up) and lingering on the later ones. Perhaps it just felt like that because of how slow the pacing is written in Julius Caesar.
It wasn’t all dragging tempo and missed chances, the production actually makes a very good first impression with direction and costume working together well to set the scene of corporate “yes men.” Each Roman senator easily embodied the slick city boy we have come to loathe over the last few years. The vignettes between scenes emphasised the themes of surface, image and show that are associated with city culture.
Julius Caesar is a strange play; it is hard to align the war and death of the second half with the petty politics and jealousy of the first. This production doesn’t get any closer to unlocking it than any I have seen. Indeed, it misses many opportunities: slightly clumsy design and cutting decisions, and hushed diction, to name a few.
Director: Jimmy Walters
Producer: James Ahearne for Proud Haddock
Designer: Oliver Daukes
Costume: Eleanor Bull
Booking Link: http://proudhaddock.ticketsource.co.uk/
Booking Until: 15 Nov 2014