Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Devki Panchmatia
Assistant Direction by Max Lister
The Ides of March are upon us, and so with the passing of Winter, Caesar will rule no more. Transformed into a den of bootlegged gin, vice and vicious victory, the Debating Hall, Teviot House serves a superbly enchanting setting for the Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company’s grandest production to date: William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
An eminent tale – Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar claims the sanity of so many who feel overly familiar with it: rarely is it carried off well. Faith, though, should remain with the Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company, which carries a remarkable level of appreciation and comprehension of the text. Simply – this is not an easy show. And yet, this meritorious production strikes some of the highest notes audiences will find in a re-framing of this text. It’s only the odd sour notes that leaves enough of an acidic blister to dampen otherwise triumphant elements.
Perhaps the single highest mark of valour in Devki Panchmatia’s direction is how they manage to successfully intersect the cutthroat nature of gang violence with the language of the bard, extracting the most from their extensive cast of performers. Accents significantly land within the realms of acceptable, with only a handful landing outside of the Pesci impersonators.
Julius Caesar is a long show, clocking in at over three hours. And though many will find the need to stretch a leg come to the curtain call, the time chiefly moves forward without issue. For the most part, time passes unnoticed, the pacing of the show rhythmic – with few drops in momentum occurring for scene changes, which happen with a rapidness covered over by the live band who provide the flow of jazz and percussion.
But what of the man himself? The emperor. Or, in this case, the Don. Francesco Davi’s Caesar embraces the thematic aura of the fifties mob, and though it initially stands out against the more reserved players, it becomes a firm favourite flavour – why shouldn’t the noblest man alive be so brash and open about his adoring public? And their faithful and reliable Mark Anthony, here superbly captured by Julia Lisa, is a triumph for the show – able to maintain composure and command without resulting in overplayed domination. Their monologue towards the closing of act one, Caesar’s funeral, leaves the audience with such reflection and profound impression that many fail to recognise when then the first act concludes.
The physical embodiment of Cassius’ anxious choices spills over into Tom Wells’ hypnotic performance is captivating – their jitters and sub-conscious movements of guilt are as complex in communication as their spoken performance. They are an exquisite countermelody to a more regal, withdrawn performance from Haig Lucas as Brutus, who, of the entire cast, sells the authentic mobster effortlessly. Their guilt is more private in secretive scenes with their spouse, played with a stern and stately command by Marina Funcasta’s Portia, who leaves a firm impression with the minimal stage time the script provides.
Though in the production’s closing moments, Lucas’ flood of emotional agony bursts forth – to tremendous effect. Additionally, the final third allows Izzy Saltl, playing Brutus’ servant Lucius, a naïve young servant who is positioned to soften Brutus, to instil a passionate loyalty and strength in the role that goes beyond expectations. Small character moments like these, or Isabelle Hodgson’s sinister, bordering unhinged but still entirely believable Casca make the production a marvellous success.
There’s a wealth of villainous rogues and side-lined heroes which exist amongst the twenty-plus cast, many of whom double to additional roles. There’s a blur occasionally as the more minor roles slide into another, a fault more with the script than anything, which presents severe limitations with how to infuse enough characters to differentiate. A more significant issue presents with those looking to ensure they’re spotted amidst the strong personalities. It leads to distracting waves and posturing, particularly grating in the second act when surrounded by such wonderful language and performances who take use of the quieter moments.
Lucy Melrose, Leonardo Shaw, and Tom Creswell though are shining examples of how to diversify the roles, Melrose plays Caesar’s beloved Calpurnia in the first act while switching out the gooey gown for pinstripes and a tie as Titinius in the second act. Meanwhile, Creswell imbues a much-needed sense of humour as the unfortunate Cinna the poet.
By the second act, the band have vacated, unfortunately unable to hear the eventual celebration of their live performance – drummer and mucisal director Adam Ryan and co-musical director Benjamin Duncan (alto saxophone) championing the six-piece band into tremendously aiding the show’s scene transitions. All of whom: Robin Frazer, Josh Nelson, Luke Noonen and Jenna Tufnail deserve the cheers and applause they received. The second act also comes with the production’s most significant scene-change for battle, the stage strewn with barricade ala Les Miserable. It’s here the 1950s angle of the show loses footing – becoming somewhat obsolete now the club rooms and dancing girls have left.
And they’re missed, Luca Stier’s set design has so far been engaging and thematic, pitched well by Freya Game’s moody lighting which strikes between a more violent, ominous crimson and the more flooded lights of truth and exposure. There’s, for any faults, an undoubted sense of thought to the entire production – a rousing success in most terms brought back down smaller distractions and choices.
Their biggest show to date – and audiences can see why. Everything involved in Panchmatia and assistant director Max Lister’s direction captures the savagery and power hierarchy of Shakespeare’s dynamic script. They pitch their performance with the strongest players and position the game for a lengthy but never poorly-paced showcase of aptitude, merit, and creativity. Minor grievances with larger casts and an overcrowded second act fail to draw the production back too heavily – but Julius Caesar remains a commendably compelling production of dignity and thought.
Captures Savagery and Power
Julius Caesar runs at The Debating Hall, Teviot House until March 4th. Wednesday– Saturday at 19.30pm.
Running Time – Three hours incl. one interval. Suitable for ages 15+. Tickets begin from £15.00 (£10.00 con, £8.00 members) and may be obtained here.
Photo Credit – Henry-Morgan De Witt