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Julius Caesar (Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: Julius Caesar

Society: OVO

Venue: Maltings Theatre. Level 2, Maltings Shopping Centre, 28 Victoria St, St Albans AL1 3HL

Credits: By William Shakesoeare, adapted by Micha Mirto and Matt Strachan. Produced by OVO and Knuckledown

Julius Caesar

4 stars

This fresh, succinct take on the best political thriller in the canon takes us to the turbulence of Italy in 1977 and respects Shakespeare’s “two-hours’ traffic of our stage” hint. All the clutter has gone and a cast of seven (four women and three men) tell the story with incisive clarity on a transverse stage. The 1970s projected archive footage fits aptly although the explanatory prologue is unnecessary.

Julius Caesar is a fine play and totally timeless. The politics fit any situation where there’s a dictatorial management structure and factions form to oppose/destroy it. It happens all around us, at different levels, every day. This version, intelligently directed by Matt Strachan, gets the message across with neat artistry.  There’s no soothsayer (although his famous Ides of March message is in) or Cinna the poet and many minor characters have disappeared.

It’s a production full of good ideas. After the murder Caesar (Malcolm Jeffries – very plausible and full marks for dying with one foot slightly off the ground and holding it until another character turns the corpse onto its back) slips into a seat at the opposite end of the space watching thoughtfully until he’s brightly lit as the ghost which haunts Brutus. The segue from Caesar’s death to his funeral is elegantly managed too. I like the concept of sending Calphurnia (Jane Withers) to war as Antony’s side kick, a conflation of characters such as Octavius and Lepidus, so that she becomes the epitome of a strong modern woman – looking oddly like Georgia Meloni when she triumphantly declares victory at the end. The cross gender casting is effective and there are several strong regional accents in this cast which somehow makes the play feel even more immediate and realistic.

Alis Wyn Davies gets all the decency and agony of Brutus perfectly as she tries to work out whether the end really does justify the means – while Eloise Westwood’s Portia is convincing as the anxious wife who isn’t being told what her partner is getting herself into. Cassius is a juicy part and Charlotte Whitaker really runs with it – arguing, manipulating and listening intently, convinced that her point of view is the right one: Caesar must go. The group of conspirators, usually large and individually named, is reduced here to Cassius, Casca (Mathew Rowan – good) and Brutus and actually, that’s plenty.

Tom Milligan’s Antony barely appears until the second half. Then he really comes into his own. I used to teach the “Friends, Roman Countrymen” speech alongside Earl Spencer’s eulogy at his sister’s funeral as outstanding examples of very deliberate crowd-swaying rhetoric. Milligan drives the message home with great skill – “Brutus is an honourable woman” except that in Anthony’s self-interested view, she isn’t. It’s a very charismatic performance from a young actor especially when he listens, shiftily, to Brutus’s funeral speech which comes first.

This is a compelling account of the play, well worth catching if you can.

First published by Sardines:



Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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