Julius Caesar: Essential Theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe

Ultimate fan-girl: I was first in line! 

Shakespeare. Australian accents. For a bit over an hour, I was home. I was lost in the world of political intrigue, murder, war, ancient Roman Empire. I was found, in the language of poetry and humanity, in the stories of these women striving with, for, against each other and themselves.

It was so polished, the actors were their characters, two or three each. In the round, the effortless playing of the action to all four sides was so carefully choreographed as to feel utterly natural and unrehearsed.

The use of colour to both link Caesar to her soldiers (with red) who then betrayed her, and then with her white cloak to Octavius and show Antony's shifting allegiance from Brutus et al. to Octavius, was  quite effective. Simple costume changes for the labourers / crowd and Lucius clearly established the difference in rank and I'm sure helped to enable the slick and seamless flow of the action.

It was so embodied, we were drawn in; the audience was Rome. I had to stop myself from joining in the three-person crowd's repeated hum and whisper of 'Brutus', 'Cassius', their chants of revolution and rebellion, in response to Marc Antony's speech at Caesar's funeral. It didn't feel like that sort of production that we should join in, but those three crowd members emerging from the shadows, voices growing louder until they leapt into the light with impassioned rallying to the cry of revolution ... I was with them.
The rhetoric of that speech's repeated 'Brutus is honourable' impressed me: Sophie Lampel's delivery was nuanced, well paced, and directed to us, the fourth wall removed, the audience drawn in by emotion to be moved from any support of Brutus' actions against Caesar to condemn it, and her.

Caesar's blood. The use of flowers for blood,
and for the epaulets on the soldier's uniforms
didn't feel to me like a nod to the feminine,
though it may have been. 
Cassius was intriguing, scheming.
Casca's fuming in the corner, disgusted with Caesar and Antony, was palpable.
Sinna / Lucius / soothsayer / poet - the most character changes for any of the actors, and each character was distinct, consistent, present.
Amanda LaBonte's Brutus, even in this heavily abridged version of the story, was complex and developed over the course of the story, as they managed not to jump too quickly into her acceptance of Cassius's proposal, allowed her moments of pause, though she was committed to her removal of Caesar whose leadership she had come to despise.

And it did not feel odd or surprising or confronting that these were female characters (the pronouns changed), or even that Caesar was still married to a wife. This telling of the story demonstrated just how timeless and enduringly timely Shakespeare's plays and portrayals of humans truly are; and how when the actors are committed to their characters, and the staging and costuming are just right, the world of the story is authentic, rings true.

I have loved Essential Theatre's Shakespeare in the Vines program in Australia for close to a decade. There, they mostly play the comedies with a slightly bigger, and co-ed cast. This was different, as Sophie noted when we chatted briefly afterwards, to those productions. It demonstrates the depth and breadth of the gifts and skills of this company and its actors brilliantly.

I loved it. I don't think my words here do true justice to my feelings in response. But I am so grateful that, seeing as though I haven't been able to go to Essential Theatre these three years, they were able to come to me. (wink)

Essential Theatre's Julius Caesar, as others have noted before me, is tight, powerful, gripping. Go see it. You've got one week if you're in Edinburgh.


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