I don’t need to consult my copy of York Notes to tell the minstrels noisily belting out songs from the small platform at the centre of the slowly filling mini coliseum aren’t strictly quoting Bill S’s work.
They are on hand to rile up the holiday crowd to welcome Caesar, rattle the teeth of the more well healed populous in the seats, segueing from the Burnage boys via Katie Perry, Survivor and Twisted Sister’s ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’. We boo as we are scolded for celebrating Caesar and forgetting Pompey before the great man enters the area like, well, a baseball hatted demagogue we all know so well. Flags are waved, chanting erupts as the crowd parts – the first of many times during the performance that we will be gently and sometimes speedily shifted as the hydraulic floor of the theatre creates rooms and platforms.
It goes without saying that the main cast are absolutely splendid, the steely resolve of Michelle Fairley’s Cassius moulded like a film noir assassin in persuading the conflicted Ben Wishaw to join their conspiracy. Adjoa Andoh’s Casca is wonderfully sassy and witty as she schemes, giving the lines a real kick and sense of sly fun.
With the promenade setup and constant movement you are never that far from any of the action, often close enough to touch which of course gives such immediacy and urgency to the play. The transitions where major set changes are performed are done so cleverly, not just resorting to blackout but using the space and standing audience effectively. Caesar, played with superb puffed up hubris by David Calder, appears before the senate after a huge flag has swept across the head of the mob allowing a throne room to appear.
His death (spoiler alert!) heralds the appearance of one seen only of the periphery til now, Marc Antony and David Morrissey is simply captivating as he plots and wheedles his way into the trust of the conspirators only to turn and betray them. Delivering those oh so familiar lines of the funeral scene with such conviction and emotion – you can see the slight madness in his eyes and uses the crowd gathered round him like a master orator.
The war brings, noise, thunder, strobes, dust, dirt and filth raining from the ceiling with a sense of confusion and desperation as we are hurled from place to place until, as it always is with Shakespeare – nearly everyone is dead.
Nicholas Hynter has created such a wonderful piece of art that could be appreciated by absolutely anyone. It is relatable, understandable and accessible as Shakespeare should be. It’s more than flash, tricks or gimmicks – it is popular entertainment performed with imagination by world class acting and production talent.