"Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look"
It's had rave reviews this modern dress "Julius Caesar" at the Bridge Theatre. The theatre is on the South Bank, just up from Tower Bridge and is the brain child of the National's recent executive and artistic directors. It possibly fanciful to suggest that it's there to rival the National but so far it is looking like a brilliant addition to London theatre.
With Ben Whishaw, Michelle Fairley,David Calder and David Morrisey in the principal parts you expect a knock out show. That is what we got this Saturday afternoon. The theatre was packed, which highlighted how badly designed was the theatre foyer. It was almost impossible to navigate your way around it. Ordering food and drink, or going to the loo or cloakroom was a chore, but this is uncompromisingly a theatre - a performance space. Minor inconveniences like the aforementioned poorly thought out foyer and the seating which is pretty poor - although compared to most West End theatres quite spacious - is to be tolerated.
It was a shock to find that the stage and stalls were missing. A part of the audience (the groundlings) were the Roman plebs, packed around a small stage listening to a pretty effective three piece band before the play began -this entertainment being part of Caesar's triumphant parade. Mingling with the crowd were stall holders selling drinks, tee-shirts and hats, as well as stage hands and the actors. In no time you forgot you were in a theatre.
David Calder was suitably imperious as Caesar, Michelle Fairley good as Cassius whose love and admiration for Brutus allowed her to fatally demure to his miscalculations and ill judgement. As Brutus, Ben Whishaw was a man with far too good an opinion of himself, despite his amazing misreadings of the political scene in late republican Rome. David Morrisey's Mark Anthony had the right mix of physicality and cunning to ensure you believed the conspirators were doomed.
The battle scenes were incredibly noisy and realistic, and great credit to the stage crew who reset so many scenes, navigating the audience on the stage, and who themselves were a fascinating part of the action.
I've seen "Young Marx" at the Bridge and now this. If it keeps up this standard of production it may well be known as the "second National."
If you can do see this play.