New York’s recent explosively controversial Shakespeare in the Park was All About Trump, but at Bristol’s Old Vic Theatre there was a rather more British take on Shakespeare’s perennially politicised play “Julius Caesar”

Julius Caesar at Bristol Old Vic - Lynn Farleigh (Calpurnia) Julian Glover (Julius Caesar) - Photo by Simon Purse
Photos by Simon Purse

Veteran actor Julian Glover’s Caesar is no Trump, but the fact that he’s beloved by the young while feared and hated by the recently-young does put one in mind of another JC – Jeremy Corbyn – and this production definitely takes its energy from today’s (30 June 2017) sense of post-election turbulence. There’s even an “Oh, Julius Caesar!” refrain from the mob in the opening scene.
These things never quite fit, of course. Arrogant and vain, Glover’s JC would never be mistaken for an allotment-tending socialist. You get the sense that his military victories and territorial conquests have made him a bit mad.

Julius Caesar at Bristol Old Vic - Afolabi Alli (Metellus) and Rudolphe Mdlongwa (Cinna) - Photo by Simon Purse
Indeed, for all his belief in his own godlike prowess, there’s a King Lear-like frailty to this Caesar. The one glimpse of his political instincts – when he singles out Cassius as dangerous – merely confirms that his radar is working but his defences are down.

Apart from Caesar, Calpurnia (Lynn Farleigh) and the Soothsayer (John Hartoch), the rest of the characters are all played by students from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, and there’s plenty of ascending talent on display. Brutus is portrayed by Freddie Bowerman as a ramrod-straight patrician whose much-discussed honour never quite masks the suggestion that he’s acting out of vanity. As Cassius, Edward Stone is an oily George Osborne-type. A persuasive political realist, he needs Brutus on board for the conspiracy to succeed – but his deference to Brutus will prove a fatal flaw.

Julius Caesar at Bristol Old Vic - Alice Kerrigan (Cinna the Poet) with company - Photo by Simon Purse
Casca is one of Shakespeare’s most marvellously bitchy creations and, played with icy disdain by Eleanor House, gets quite a few laughs (in the early scenes, that is – Casca is also the conspirator who initiates the stabbing of Caesar). The gender-swapped casting means this Julius Caesar takes place in a world where wives like Calpurnia and Portia (Sarah Livingston) are essentially enslaved by the patriarchy, and yet it is simultaneously permissible for women to have high-flying political careers and fight in the civil war. Most significantly, Octavius becomes Octavia, played by Rosy McEwen with emotionless hauteur, reminiscent of a killer robot from the Terminator films.

Julius Caesar at Bristol Old Vic - Freddie Bowerman (Brutus) - Photo by Simon Purse
Mark Antony is played by Ross O’Donnellan as a party animal with a broad Irish accent, a fact which seemed to greatly amuse the two blokes sitting next to me. I thought it was a good choice for a character whom the conspirators underestimate until he strikes them with deadly force. The scene after Caesar’s assassination where Antony insists on shaking hands with the blood-soaked killers worked particularly well. It starts off as desperate survival technique, but it allows us to see Antony gradually get the measure of each of his opponents, and begin to realise he can beat them.

Julius Caesar at Bristol Old Vic - Ross O'Donnellan (Mark Antony) - Photo by Simon Purse
The mob scenes and battles are skilfully deployed in this lean, fast-moving production. The supporting cast all have a lot to do, playing multiple characters and at times literally running riot. The modern-day dress code of business suits and military fatigues is similar to the Ralph Fiennes Coriolanus film. But director Simon Dormandy’s Caesar has strengths of its own as it points, Soothsayer-like, to the consequences of political meltdown.

Julius Caesar ran at Bristol Old Vic from 9 June to 1 July 2017.
Go here for more on Bristol Old Vic.
Go here for more on Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.

Photo Essay: One of the stars of the acclaimed Donmar Shakespeare Trilogy, multi-talented Jade Anouka talks us through an action-packed gallery of images by photographer Helen Maybanks

Images by Helen Maybanks

Henry IV
Jade Anouka as Hotspur in Henry IV.

“This is actually during a scene change in Henry IV. Karen Dunbar live DJs throughout the show. But she is in the next scene so I take over the decks at this point.”

The Tempest
Jade as Ariel in The Tempest.

“During the song ‘Come Unto These Yellow Sands’ in The Tempest. The whole company perform the song with a mix of instruments including guitar, drums, harmonica and trumpet. Joan Armatrading composed the music for Shakespeare’s words. At this point I am rapping – our director got me to write some spoken word for the show to help bring moments up to date. As a poet, I relished the opportunity.”

Julius Caesar
Jade as Mark Antony in Julius Caesar.

“In Julius Caesar I begin Mark Anthony’s ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ speech face down with the rest of the company/Romans pointing guns to my head. From this completely vulnerable point, it is amazing how Shakespeare’s words can move the crowd to follow Anthony.”

Henry IV
As Hotspur in Henry IV.

“This is Hotspur in an early scene of Henry IV. He is talking to the King, explaining that there was a misunderstanding, and at this point he is asking not to let this misunderstanding get in the way of their relationship.”

Henry IV
The Earl of Douglas (Leah-Harvey) spars with Hotspur in Henry IV.

“Hotspur recruits The Earl of Douglas to his side, and in this moment they are sparring – a sort of test or initiation to make sure Douglas is up to it. He proves he is more than capable!”

The Tempest
As Ariel in The Tempest.

“As Ariel, here I am performing another of my penned raps. This is in place of a rhyming couplet that Shakespeare wrote about how fast and efficiently Ariel says he and his sprites will fullfill Prospero’s tasks. I wrote a version, and it is performed just before the wedding.”

Henry IV
Prince Hal (Clare Dunne) battles Hotspur in Henry IV.

“Here is an action shot in the big fight and only meeting of Prince Hal and Hotspur in the play. They are forced to fight to the death in order to win the war. It starts off as a stylised boxing match and descends into a grapple where a knife gets involved. I loved doing the stage combat! Thanks to Kombat Kate for choreographing.”

The Donmar Shakespeare Trilogy at King’s Cross Theatre runs until 17 December.

All performances of Julius Caesar and The Tempest, and all Trilogy Days are sold out. There are a limited number of tickets available for Henry IV on 13 December.

Go here for more information and tickets.

Canadian acting legend Christopher Plummer is delighted to receive 2015 Sam Wanamaker Award from Shakespeare’s Globe

Internationally-acclaimed actor Christopher Plummer has been awarded Shakespeare’s Globe’s most prestigious prize, the 2015 Sam Wanamaker Award, established in the name of the theatre’s founder to celebrate work that has increased the understanding and enjoyment of Shakespeare.

Christopher Plummer is regarded by many as one of the finest living actors on stage or screen today. His Shakespearean roles include King Lear and Iago, Macbeth opposite Glenda Jackson, Hamlet for BBC TV, Henry V, Mercutio, Mark Antony, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Leontes, Bardolph, Benedick, Richard III and, most recently, Prospero at the Stratford Festival in Canada.

My Shakespeare Episode 05 Christopher Plummer

On winning the Award, Christopher Plummer said: “I look at the Globe Theatre today proudly restored and I think how easy it is to forget the long hard struggle. How one man kept circling the planet, mostly alone, to raise the necessary funds. Sam Wanamaker’s passion, devotion and ferocious Elizabethan energy fought for his jewel – our jewel.

“And just when it was ready to be mounted he died, never to look his triumph in the face. Sam Wanamaker was an American whose heart was in the right place. It sometimes takes the New Hemisphere to revive the Old and, by heaven, Sam was living proof of that! In one short lifetime he gave us back one of the wonders of the world.

“Sam knew of my devotion to the Globe and South Bank projects and very generously invited me onto his Board. I was never so honoured – and now this! I am moved beyond measure not just for this, but for Sam, that extraordinary fighter who won the battle for us all.”

My Shakespeare Episode 05 Christopher Plummer

The Sam Wanamaker Award was instituted by Shakespeare’s Globe in 1994 to honour work which has a similar quality to Sam’s own pioneering mission. Christopher Plummer follows former illustrious recipients of the Award, the first of whom was Dr Rex Gibson, creator and editor of the Cambridge School Shakespeare.

Other recipients include Janet Arnold for her pioneering research into Elizabethan clothing; Professor Stanley Wells, Shakespeare scholar and former Chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust; John Barton, founding member of the Royal Shakespeare Company; and actor and director Mark Rylance.

Christopher was a strong supporter of Sam Wanamaker as he tirelessly campaigned over the last 23 years of his life to reconstruct the Globe on London’s Bankside.

My ShakespeareEpisode 05 Christopher Plummer

Neil Constable, Chief Executive at Shakespeare’s Globe, commented: “Christopher has illuminated the world’s understanding of Shakespeare through many memorable performances.

He gave unswerving support to Sam Wanamaker, has been an active fundraiser for reconstructing the Globe on Bankside and also strengthened Globe links between London, Canada and the US.”

The Sam Wanamaker Award will be presented to Christopher in Toronto on 12 November, at a gala to celebrate the Shakespeare’s Globe Centre of Canada’s 25th anniversary.

Go here for more on Sam Wanamaker and Shakespeare’s Globe.

Go here to read about Great Shakespeare Actors in Shakespeare Magazine 07.