National Theatre Live: Julius Caesar


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IMDb Rating 8.2


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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by thelogfirecabin 8

Nicholas Hytner's contemporary take on ancient Rome's political elite is sparsely set. Props and scenery are largely absent, costumes are in subdued colours, and scene changes are carried out in the dark, quickly and inconspicuously. This serves to focus attention on the text, and the emotions and interaction between characters, characters who look like they could have walked right off a street outside. Hytner isn't very interested in dissecting Roman historical details in this interpretation, but in something more universal - the nature of political leadership, on how the masses can and do perceive politicians, and on how the masses can so easily be manipulated. We start off, before scene one, with a loud, heavy metal band, playing to bopping, beer-drinking audience members standing around the stage. At first this appeared to be a kind of warm-up act, until during the rock music commotion, a man appeared with a track suit top that said "Mark Antony" on the back, and spoke to the crowd. Oh no, we thought, is this noise is part of the play, do we have to put up with this repetitive, blaring electronic throbbing throughout this production? Fortunately, no. However, after our screen went blank shortly afterwards (we were told because of technical problems) we then, in our cinema, landed up in the middle of Act I Scene II, just before Cassius describes pulling a nearly drowning Caesar out of the water. Hence I can't tell you how the warm-up act actually segued into Scene I, the famous Beware the Ides of March scene. But this rock 'n roll prelude set a tone: there were frequent loud electronic sound effects throughout the performance, which tested the abilities of the actors to project their voices and their diction above the noise and rabble. All passed. In fact, all actors navigated the 16th century dialogue with nuance, humour, and received thespian pronunciation. This was even though some of the actors, such as Wendy Kweh, from Singapore, (as Calpurnia) come from a background where learning the fluent speaking of English dialogue from 1599 isn't part of the background culture. What of the characterizations? Hytner took the surprising decision to cast a woman as Cassius, but it worked. Michelle Fairley was outstanding in this role, and projected a truly lean and hungry look, but Adjoa Andoh nearly stole a few scenes from her, with her amusing swagger and mannerisms. David Calder emitted Caesar's arrogance from within a somewhat crumpled lounge suit, and made the man seem much more like one of those talking political figureheads seen on the nightly news. Of course later we see that this is not the whole of the man. David Morrissey was a Mark Antony of a seemingly naive fan-club sort at first, yet who blossoms into one who manipulates a crowd through flawless word magic and innuendo. Ben Whishaw's Brutus was scholarly and measured in approach, but ultimately misguided by his education. The entire interpretation works well as a mirror to our own era, where politicians' personalities play on world stages, civil unrest is bubbling away, the elite try to keep the masses in the dark from unraveling what is really going on, and where there are dark and abrupt political scene changes . Shakespeare tells of a deep state in Rome before Christ. This is the aspect that Hytner chooses to focus on and dress in contemporary clothes.

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Reviewed by TheLittleSongbird 7

When it comes to compiling a list of Shakespeare&#39;s best plays, from personal opinion, &#39;Julius Caesar&#39; would not make the list, though it would certainly not be on the lesser play list. That is not saying that it&#39;s a bad play, quite the contrary. It is compelling with fully rounded characters, interesting themes and some of Shakespeare&#39;s most famous lines and speeches, Shakespeare once again showing how unrivalled he is in mastery of language, text and poetry whether in a few lines or big monologues. It does though run out of steam dramatically towards the end and in performance very rarely is the final scene nailed.<br/><br/>Have always found Nicholas Hytner an interesting and intelligent director. He always has good ideas, treats the source material with taste and respect and he shows great attention to detail in character growth and interactions. He is not always enough of a risk taker though, have seen productions of various operas and plays that are far more spontaneous. But actually, this &#39;Julius Caesar&#39; was an exception. He does take risks here, including making Cassius a female, the use of the floor and the use of mob, and with the audience feeling like part of the action (felt the same about Kenneth Branagh&#39;s &#39;Macbeth&#39;) there is spontaneity.<br/><br/>This &#39;Julius Caesar&#39; is often very well done in almost every area and succeeds more than it doesn&#39;t. It is not a perfect production. The second half is not as good as the first. It does lose momentum towards the end and some of it is on the silly side, and the play is partly to blame for this.<br/><br/>It is a production that has the text heavily cut, which doesn&#39;t always make the story cohesive and character motivations are not fully fleshed out or too vague. Some of the characters seeming to act the way they do for no real reason and reading or studying the play is in order to understand. Was somewhat mixed on David Morrissey, who treats it too much of a joke at first and loses focus at the end. However, as Marc Antony evolves and made more complex Morrissey&#39;s acting also grows. His delivery of the major speeches is powerful, especially the famous &quot;lend me your ears&quot; one.<br/><br/>On the other hand, the production despite not being traditional visually doesn&#39;t look ugly or cheap, the period not confusing. The setting even was quite frightening in realism in a way that&#39;s tragic and brutal. The first half is extremely compelling, with rousing and moving moments and the politics aren&#39;t laid on too thick despite having more of an emphasis, to show how more chaos there is when leadership is lacking. Despite having a lot of cuts, the dialogue is still vintage Shakespeare, emotionally varied and intelligent.<br/><br/>Was mostly very impressed by Hytner&#39;s stage direction. It was thoughtful, it was more spontaneous than most productions of his, he doesn&#39;t play it safe, the characters show growth in ways that make sense (despite some vague motivations) and the character interaction has intensity and pathos. The use of the crowd and floor were inspired immersive touches and enhanced the experience. Although Morrissey was inconsistent, the acting mostly was very strong. Ben Whishaw stands out, underplaying Brutus but very movingly and still giving him authority. Michelle Fairley plays Cassius, very interesting here, very intelligently and with full committment. David Calder is a powerful Caesar in presence, not always subtle but the dignity and authority comes through.<br/><br/>All in all, a lot of fine things but not quite great. 7/10

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Reviewed by ferdinand1932 3

This production of Julius Caesar has a grunge band, as if it was Seattle in 1990. The text is cut: the shorter length condensed action and made it an entirely different work, not the original source, but merely based on. <br/><br/>It was not a representation of ancient Rome, not that the play is either historically accurate nor authentic, ( no one ever said Et tu...) but the relationships had been changed fundamentally from the play by Shakespeare to something like a contemporary dictatorship in which grunge still rocks. <br/><br/>The problem is that the production is not really the source play. It is full of tricks and distractions and that works for an audience, but it is not the original play. That is not necessarily bad but like the trade descriptions act to describe any product, cereal, or a car, it is not what is advertised. The hardest justification is cutting the text because the text is what someone pays to see and hear hence the cuts have a very large effect.

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