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Julius Caesar

William Shakespeare
Immersion Theatre
Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

Julius Caesar

Unabashed re-interpretation is the trademark of this fearless young company whose artistic policy is centred around taking a "truly unique and original" approach to classical texts and whose first production of 2012, Julius Caesar, is set in a "dystopian bohemia".

A near-wordless prologue depicts a disintegrated society in a scene of fetid violence which melds into the action of the play through a stylised movement sequence. It is a disquieting and striking opening that signals a challenging and non-conformist Caesar ahead.

The text is heavily cut for this maverick production of Shakespeare's tragedy and pronouns have been altered to accommodate the seemingly arbitrary changes of gender although the names have remained the same.

In making Julius a woman, something of a dominatrix in the way she gives a sharp elbow in the chest to the clingy anxious Calpurnia (a man), Cassius a sexually aggressive female (a characteristic that vanishes in the second half) and Brutus and Marc Anthony men, the contrasting personalities of the protagonists and how this, against fate, influences the action is largely lost. What is a study of political life and ambition has become jumbled and reduced to something smaller, more akin to opposing street gangs with everyone so base as to make them all villains.

Nearly every scene in the first half has some sexual physicality or other which is not supported by the text and like the opening's dance sequence is not seen again. When Portia is on her knees entreating Brutus to share his troubles whilst making for his crotch it demeans both the characters for no apparent purpose or benefit and has the effect of, again, putting all the characters at the same level.

Liam Mulvey is the most commanding as Brutus with a strong sonorous voice that contrasts sharply with the reediness of Cassius played by Rochelle Parry who like Marc Anthony and Caesar lacks gravitas. Directors James Tobias and Roderick Morgan might have helped here by allowing the text to be delivered on occasion with a little more loftiness.

There is tension and energy in this murkily lit Shakespeare re–working and some interesting images but there is more blood than there are guts.

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti