Sunday, March 13, 2011

Theatre Review: Julius Caesar by La Boite Theatre Company

"Between the acting of a dreadful thing/And the first motion, all the interim is/Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream."

More images can be found at the official production gallery.

Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is a gripping, political, gory and glamorous piece of theatre, and is aptly presented as such in Brisbane based La Boite Theatre Company’s current rendition.

The show opens with the tail end of roaring party, table dancing and shot swigging youngsters frolic around Thomas Larkin’s Marc Antony while Cassius (Paul Bishop) broods and Brutus (Steven Rooke) sleeps, and the audience get their first taste of the fantastic original score created and performed by the ever talented Steve Toulmin.

From the get go, this show shouts sexy, the cast’s bodies on display with abs, arms and legs flashing for the audience to enjoy. Watching, it’s hard to not imagine the lot of them taking part in group gym sessions to get toned for the season, and the as an audience member I feel compelled to appreciate the effort gone to for my visual pleasure. This choice to firstly focus on the human body is enhanced later as the blood letting begins and strikes a nice contrast with the second half of the play wrapped up in questions of the mind, morals and spirit.

Guided by the company’s Artistic Director David Berthold, the visually stunning cast work Shakespeare’s text with an ease not often seen in modern performances. It is relieving to finally see a Shakespearean performance not all delivered in shouts and screams and mumbles, classic good diction allowing the language to set the base of the play, as it should do. For me, Paul Bishop stands out with a wonderfully measured portrayal of the mastermind Cassius. The play is performed brilliantly in the round, the first time the Roundhouse Theatre has been used for its purpose in a long while, the audience are engaged from the top of the show through to its stunning climax.

Berthold has made some remarkable choices within his interpretation of Caesar, and as the show draws on and the characters lose themselves between dreams and reality, he proves that this political piece is highly relevant in the modern day. Many have suggested that the play has been chosen at the perfect time to coincide with Australian political goings on, but while political back stabbing remains a topical issue in Australia, Caesar showcases the idea with much more intensity, violence and conviction, and makes Australia’s political landscape seem almost farcical and petty in comparison. If this was the director’s aim, then I applaud him on a job well done.

There is indeed some fantastic fight choreography in this performance (directed by Nigel Poulton), the brutality shown in the fight scenes matching that within the graphic spoken language, a feat not easily achieved. There is a lot of blood, a lot, but what else can be expected from a play with the lines, “And let us bathe our hands in Caesar’s blood/ Up to the elbows” (Act III Scene I). Instead being tasteless and tacky, as often on-stage goriness can appear, in this it adds to the chill, degrading atmosphere that develops throughout the show.

For a Shakespearean production, La Boite’s show runs quite short, the pace remains quick throughout. In some moments it feels too quick, though, and with this there is a lack of tenderness in the developing of relationships in some moments of the play, which would have added a nice variety and depth. This being my one main criticism, however, it was nice to not sit through a three hour rendition of the play.

This is a brilliant interpretation of an unfalteringly brilliant play, and in my opinion showcases some very good individual performances as well as a solid marriage of design and direction.

Julius Caesar runs at The Roundhouse Theatre in Brisbane until March 20.

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