My experience of Shakespeare up to now has been lots of boring English lessons at secondary school, getting to enjoy the first 45 minutes of Othello over and over at college before lesson ended and watching Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet on repeat post-break up with a bottle of rosé in close reach.
However, I’m an adult now (kind of?) and decided it was finally time to take my love of musicals and try applying this to some hard-hitting plays…so where better to start than Sheffield Theatres’ production of Julius Caesar?
The first production for new artistic director Robert Hastie; this modern dress adaptation of the thrilling classic was the perfect way to introduce his vision to the city of Sheffield. Hard-hitting, totally gripping and utterly thrilling.
Walking into The Crucible and seeing a set up perfectly designed for an intense senate meet (a huge round of applause for designer Ben Stones – beyond impressive); it was apparent this was not a night for merriment. As previously mentioned, I am not a Shakespeare fan – the language is complex, the stories are often morose in tone and I often find my brain scrambling to piece it together, but this production gripped a full to bursting Crucible Theatre on May 23rd; with it’s topical themes of politics and dictatorship (not naming names…*cough*) and brilliantly empowered performances from an evidently experienced cast.
Before it began, I knew it would be a long evening. The first act took around 90 minutes of plotting, scheming and eventual betrayal but it was the closing 15 minutes of Act I and the vigorous 45 minute duration of Act II which really brought the house down. Turning what would have once been sword-fighting and daggers into gun warfare for the Act II Civil War was a genius move on Hastie’s part.
Where stand-out performances are concerned, leading duo Sam West as Brutus and Zoë Waites as a female re-imagining of Cassius were stunning in their roles…with an equally brilliant cast surrounding them, including Jonathan Hyde as the egotistical Caesar (who, ironically, probably had the smallest role in the show) and Elliot Cowan’s vengeful and passionate Mark Antony – who brought the house down with his incredibly powerful monologues. The ensemble cast played by Sheffield People’s Theatre made for brilliant scene-setting; and it was ace to hear some loud and proud Yorkshire accents amidst the (as my Grandma would say) ‘proper speak’. I must also mention Chipo Chung as Brutus’ pining wife Portia and Lisa Caruccio Came as Caesar’s Calpurina – both women play strong and heartfelt parts, evidently caring for their husbands’ well-being, though they were short-lived roles, they resonated big time – girl power, and all that.
This review cannot complete without mention for the production team; whose amazing sound and lighting – whether they be foreshadowing thunderstorms, helicopters overhead or dramatic gunshots – made for an immersive audience experience which really brought us into the story as it we were onlookers just passing by as opposed to an audience.
If you don’t know Julius Caesar, prepare for conflicted emotions at the end – with your morality and opinions brought into question…it’s something you won’t be forgetting any time soon.
A huge thank you as ever to the amazing Sheffield Theatres team not only for the invite and for such a brilliant launch night complete with band and drinks (woo), but for continuing to bring these incredible shows to our city for the masses to enjoy. Sheffield is inordinately lucky to have this cultural icon at its heart. 2017 has been a storming year for The Crucible, with the ground-breaking debut for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and this heart-stopping Shakespearean tale – I cannot wait to see what comes next.
Julius Caesar runs at The Crucible Theatre until June 10th, tickets are available here.