Considering he coined the phrase “Brevity is the soul of wit”, William Shakespeare couldn’t half bang on. The Bard’s genius may be beyond doubt, but even the most rapt audiences can sometimes be challenged by the sheer bulk of his plays.
The crowning achievement of Mad Wolf Theatre’s production of Julius Caesar is that it tells the whole bloody story in 75 minutes flat without feeling rushed or skipping key plot points. Having studied the text – albeit in dimly remembered schooldays – I only noticed one missing beat (the mistaken killing of Cinna the Poet) and all the famous quotes are present and correct, from “Beware the Ides of March” to “Et tu, Bruté?”.
You probably don’t need me to go over the story. Suffice it to say that popular leader Julius Caesar is judged to be getting too big for his boots, so “lean and hungry” Cassius spearheads a conspiracy to murder him, after which Caesar’s devoted friend Mark Antony whips up outrage in his “Friends, Romans, countrymen” speech and the hunt is on for the murderers. It’s a tale of ambition, betrayal, honour and loyalty, and Mad Wolf succeed in realising the entirety of the narrative as well as making the themes of the play clear and compelling.
An excellent cast of six play dozens of characters, with simple but effective costume changes helping to differentiate them. Aimee Kember makes a convincingly regal Caesar as well as imbuing Brutus’ stoical wife Portia with impressive nobility. Alex Bird is intense and urgent as Cassius, and Niall Burns brings a well-judged balance of righteous indignation and personal sorrow to Mark Antony. Considering how familiar the plot is, it’s to the production’s credit that Caesar’s assassination feels shocking, and Mark Antony’s pained funeral oration is genuinely stirring.
The sparing use of incidental music adds to the show’s polish – this is a thoroughly thought through and intelligent production all round. My only reservations are that some of the diagonal sightlines exclude part of the audience at important moments, and I had no idea what the significance of the homelessness theme was.
I hope Mad Wolf tackle other Shakespeare plays, I’m sure there’s a large potential audience of people who like a bit of the Bard but don’t fancy devoting three or more hours to the experience.
Written by: William Shakespeare
Directed by: Mad Wolf
Produced by: Gavin Richards
Booking link: https://www.thelionandunicorntheatre.com/whats-on#/event/julius-caesar-17
Booking until: 18 January 2020