Julius Caesar – Summerhall

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Ewan Downie

Rating: 4 out of 5.

All good things must pass, as fields wilt and rivers dry, as teeth decay and fledglings fly. So to, Caesar must rule no more. Company of Wolves’ already well-received production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar meets its end (for now) in the consecrated corridors of Summerhall – a fitting venue for the production’s final two-night run.

As far back as 2017, the fascination with the mania surrounding historical events, and indeed, current politics, was a sparking moment for Company of Wolves and director Ewan Downie. We know the story of Julius Caesar, and many are familiar with Shakespeare’s dramatisation of his life, or more significantly, his death. A life where conviction becomes a powerful motivator – perhaps too powerful. For when we strip away false bound belief, what is left is something someone would potentially kill for.

Stark, almost barren, but for a staircase – a podium for the good Caesar to address the senate, Alisa Kalyanova’s reserved set hones focus, limiting distraction. But where required, such as the aforementioned, the purpose is clear, enabling Belle Jones to elevate Caesar into the loftiness of his reputation. Their performance is subdued, a leader of stern iron, crumbled internally by the prophecy of the now-infamous “Ides of March”.

But the communication of power comes from the costume – primarily solid blacks, with noble dressings of trinkets or minor alterations. Status is spoken of in high esteem through Kalyanova’s costume design, with the machination stitched into the design of both Casca’s more open, ‘trusting’ apparel and Brutus’s more reserved and closed off jacket. They give way for ease of movement, however, with most of the cast doubling as an ensemble, the crowds of Rome or the soldiers awaiting instruction, hungry for something to change.

Playing both Casca and Octavius, the dynamic shift from conspirator to future is a quick change of pace for Oat Jenner, who encapsulates, with phenomenal projection, the snorting bellows of the people. This guttural roar of the ‘repressed’ masculine, a familiar deep bellow from the gut of a more contemporary right-wing media-centric society, the timely reminders of democracies bowing to public opinion, and the attempted sway of such is a centuries-old tradition we have failed to stray.

Company of Wolves’ intermittent fusion of their experimentalist nature of performance with the richness of language is a significant triumph through the production, with only a few instances where it prolongs the pacing beyond expectation, dipping momentum as the stage is set again, or Scrutton’s otherwise tight audio becomes a touch overbearing. But what, surprisingly, is a resounding success is the twisting of the comedic knife with snippets of humour, and manic or snide remarks.

With a cacophony of distressing projections and mastery of strings upon the spider’s web, Lawrence Boothman walks a delicate balance between a pitiful Cassius and one of remarkable intelligence. Exhausting to witness, the frantic movements and twitches Boothman characterises are a marvel to watch, only outdone by their surrendering to the inevitable – the only moment Cassius remains still is their final one. And in scenes with Megan Lovat’s Markus Anothy, or fellow conspirator Brutus (Esme Bayley) serves a tremendous duty in tempering the less favourable aspects of Brutus, pushing them into a more sympathetic, and coherent light.

Carrying the complexity of Brutus’ motivations and the inner turmoil they attempt to balance, all communicated in Bayley’s quiet disposition – a welcome break from the more volatile performances surrounding. The “noblest of Romans”, Brutus’ dedication to principle, and indeed their self-righteousness is the inevitable downfall, carried wonderfully through Benny Goodman’s soft change of lighting, away from the stark colours and harshness of previous scenes.

Bayley’s final moments, the closing of the production, epitomise the intention of the show – humility. To demonstrate the supposed advancements – to realise that the voices which shrieked and bayed in togas have done nothing more than switch to shirts and ties. The significant strength in this political echo is not merely turning the language and storytelling to a contemporary light, but by forming Julius Caesar as production of today, an unpretentious piece constructed for the here and now.

‘A Political Echo’

Julius Caesar runs at Summerhall, Edinburgh until May 20th.

Tickets for which may be obtained here.

Photo credit – Louise Mather

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