The production of Julius Caesar staged at the Jack Studio Theatre (at the Brockley Jack) was a visual spectacle. The grungy feel of Rachel Cartlidge’s costumes placed this production outside the restrictions of Ancient Rome, reviving it and making it relevant to any society (after all when has lying and betrayal ever gone out of fashion as a topic for drama!). Any distance an audience normally has from Shakespeare, caused by language or time, was done away with here, and the threat of the mutineers was inescapably sinister as they lay round our chairs before the start of the play.
The ambience of the production was particularly notable, with Viktor Palfi’s powerful side-lighting creating larger-than-life shadows of the action high on the walls. The tension created for Caesar’s death was constantly ratcheted up and up, beginning with the murderers wrapping their hands in red fabric and hiding them for Caesar’s arrival. The build-up was gradual and well formed in all parts, the characters began to move faster and speak faster and over each other as the threatening music rose in the background until everything burst, the strobe light came on and the murderers swirled around Caesar, pushing and pulling in the graphic snapshots of light. The space of the Jack Theatre was used to its full potential as actors darted across from one side to the other, and disappeared down the corridor, through the back doors and even up the audience stairs.
The change in gender of key characters such as Caesar and Cassius was an interesting idea, if a bit confusing at first. The relationships between what would have been an all male cast in the past were totally re-evaluated and the newfound sexual tension was certainly ever present. Rochelle Parry, in particular, used Cassius’s created femininity to add seduction to the manipulative powers of her character and was sharp and witty, standing out to the audience. It was only in the domestic scenes with Brutus’s wife where characters who were women and characters who were meant to be men got slightly confused, but these scenes were brief and overall barely noticeable.
The contrast between tragedy and comedy in the play was well upheld and Frank Teale’s Casca did a lot to keep the play upbeat with his eccentric delivery of lines. The ‘creep’ factor was full of ingenuity from make-up artist Rachel York, from the white-out contact lenses for the soothsayer and Caesar’s ghost to the clever use of fake blood (I won’t spoil it).
The play, which will be running until the 10 March, is definitely worth a look. The Brockley Jack has a really welcoming atmosphere and the acting and staging of this production won’t be forgotten soon.