Julius Caesar and the futility, but seductiveness, of revolution
by Drew Rowsome- Photos by Paul Lampert
On a lovely evening, the audience settles in on their grassy perches and chats excitedly while waiting to be entertained. Cleverly, but not unexpectedly, portions of the throng erupt with conflicts between the patrons and the uniformed volunteers. A haggard, scruffy man with a bullhorn warns of impending, "Fire," before being hustled out. Has the show begun? Drumbeats fill the air and a man clad only in tight red shorts and hipster faux-fur accessories, bump-and-grinds his way down the stairs through the audience. It is an entertaining start toCanadian Stage's Julius Caesar at Shakespeare in High Park.
Caesar, an imperious and mellifluous Allan Louis, makes his entrance and though the cast races throughout the various walkways, Shakespeare is now the focus. Julius Caesar is a tale of political intrigue but it is also packed full of exposition, plotting and descriptive passages - there is a lot of standing and declaiming. Though I suspect it is verboten to criticize the text when it is from from the Shakespeare canon, in this case less talk and more action/visuals would have suited the venue.
Everyone - particularly Allegra Fulton who has a delightfully quirky throaty delivery - handles the language well but it is not until the light fades and the night creeps in that there is true magic. The togas, now blood-stained (there is action amongst the verbosity), are shed and the street clothes that have been distracting where they peeked out from under the Hudson Bay blanket robes, make thematic sense. The simple stage turns into a spookily evocative present day/night, and there are several clever flourishes that drive the point home that we have learned little since the days of Caesar.
The soothsayer, Michael McManus, no longer appears haggard and becomes a ghostly spectre who haunts and comments. Louis, who has spent a good portion of the proceedings as a corpse centrestage, (a scene stealing corpse, he is an eye-catching specimen, but a corpse), finally gets to strut his stuff. Naomi Wright unleashes her own brand of righteous indignation and Dylan Trowbridge's bump-and-grinds become a link to the seductiveness of political corruption. And one final image, high above the carnage and shattered Rome, is a visual that makes all gasp.
Unlike the Scottish play, the comedies, or the Shakespeare texts with more theatrical magic built in (it must be tempting to want to do The Tempest every year), Julius Caesar is a less obvious choice for a night under the stars with all the attendant distractions and less-attentive audiences. Director Estelle Shook and the very game cast deserve extra credit for making Julius Caesar so gripping and involving once the night conspires with them.
Julius Caesar runs in rep with The Comedy of Errors until Sat, Sept 5 at the High Park Ampitheatre. canadianstage.com