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Julius Caesar, Donmar Warehouse

William Shakespeare
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd

Pros: The fantastic stage setting, ingenious direction, innovative lighting, creative sound, intelligent interpretation of a classic tragedy…. They are all just an amazing backdrop for this first class all-female cast.

Cons: None whatsoever. It’s a great script, an amazing cast and a sensational set.

Our Verdict: There are so many reasons to see this production: the extraordinary dynamic of the all-female, top drawer cast; the representation of power, loyalty and conspiracy; the fantastic detail in the set; and the riveting stage direction. Unmissable.

Courtesy of The Telegraph

This production of the classic, conspiratorial Shakespearean tragedy marks a return to the ground breaking, exceptional quality drama that the Donmar Warehouse has become renowned for. Set in a modern women’s prison, the all-female cast bring an almost indescribable dynamic to the play, lifting it from any shackles of familiarity and launching it headlong into fresh realms of exposition. Even if you have seen Julius Caesar many times before and are intimately familiar with it, it is hardly possible to anticipate this interpretation and be anything except utterly wowed. It is excellent.

The cast are simply superb. Frances Barber perfectly conveys the megalomaniacal power of the omnipotent Caesar that must be extinguished for the greater good of Rome. Harriet Walter is stunning as the conspiratorial, soul searching Brutus. Cush Jumbo is incredibly impressive as Mark Antony, delivering the lengthy oration with mesmerising subtlety. Jenny Jules infuses passion into the role of Cassius – there just isn’t a performance that isn’t worth mentioning. Each actor with her own voice (including one who only speaks Spanish), brings a unique and identifiable character to the part she plays, shaking off the formality of Shakespearean prose and bringing the concepts and emotions explored into the twenty first century setting.

And what a setting it is! The interior of a prison, complete with guards patrolling the upper catwalks, operating a control room and controlling the spot lights on the prisoners – every detail lends itself to the illusion that this is a drama about the top dog in the Rome that is an occupied prison wing. This is reinforced with the sporadic interjection of modern profanities to unhinge any melodic undulation in the prose, and the use of live rock music which brings a threatening edge to post-Caesar Rome. Power over the masses is epitomised by dance sequences, but there is nothing twee or orchestrated about this direction; it is edgy, unnerving and violent.

It would be easy to expound the importance and significance of the all-female cast in this context, but it is unnecessary. This cast is brilliant on its own merit, and the affinity that exists between them is a rare and special artfulness. To draw a comparison with a traditional presentation of this play would somehow detract from Lloyd’s intelligent and ingenious interpretation. Each meaningful intention is skilfully directed and woven into an intricate yet robust vision of the themes of loyalty, power and altruism. These themes are not gender bound here, and it is exhilarating to be engulfed by females in roles not written to accommodate the social conformities of womanhood, or to shock the audience by not conforming to them. These are not women pretending to be men, they are people embroiled in a violent power struggle, intensified by the intimate and oppressive prison environment. This production is a gutsy gamble, it could have gone so horribly wrong, but Lloyd not only pulls it off, she does it with faultless attention to detail and conviction, bringing incredible depth to all aspects of the play.

This production has been billed as the theatre event of the year and it is not difficult to conceive that this may be true. It is masterfully created, carries enormous impact and is exciting to watch. It is special for so many reasons – don’t miss it.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Julius Caesar runs at the Donmar Warehouse until 9th February 2013. 
Box Office: 0844 871 7624 or book online at http://www.donmarwarehouse.com/whats-on/donmar-warehouse/2012/julius-caesar 

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