Distractions made play laughable

Julius Caesar by William ShakespeareAt the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until November 24I CAME to praise this Caesar, not to bury it.Having thoroughly appreciated the Mercury company's superb all-male Coriolanus, I was eager to enjoy their all-female Julius Caesar.

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

At the Mercury Theatre, Colchester

until November 24

I CAME to praise this Caesar, not to bury it.


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Having thoroughly appreciated the Mercury company's superb all-male Coriolanus, I was eager to enjoy their all-female Julius Caesar.

But where Tina Packer's production of Coriolanus sparkled with intelligence, Dee Evans swamped Caesar with meaningless nonsense.

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The wall which dominated the Coriolanus set was the only thing retained. Now, though, it was decorated with a giant bar-code. Don't ask me why.

The costumes were neither classical nor modern military, either of which would have made sense. Instead the actors were draped in wispy red or green sashes.

Why was part of Mark Antony's funeral oration delivered to a camera and screened in black-and-white on the wall? If it was meant to be challenging or “contemporary”, it succeeded only in being laughable and distracting.

Which might also be said of the sandbags that swung from the flies to represent corpses. Or the bizarre ritualised hand-movements meant to symbolise the notably absent swords and daggers.

Most of the cast battled against this deluge of pointless “experiment”.

But they were hampered too by being made to speak the verse as doggerel, giving all the emphasis to the line-endings and none to the meaning.

I have heard actors before speak Shakespeare as if they didn't understand it. But I have never known a whole production so afflicted with the disease as this one.

When even such an excellent actress as Christine Absalom is infected, one can only assume it was a deliberate decision by the director.

A particularly strange decision for a play which is largely about the power of words.

Considering all these obstacles, Absalom made the fine job you'd expect of Brutus. Shuna Snow had some good moments as Cassius. And there were good supporting turns from Elizabeth Ingram Hughes and Nadia Morgan.

The mostly percussive music, played onstage by Nao Masuda, was good in itself, though sometimes invasive.

It summed it all up that Brutus's final pre-death speech should be drowned out by what sounded like an approaching chainsaw.

Aidan Semmens

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