6 June 2017

Caesar

"But, for my own part, it was Greek to me." Julius Caesar (I, ii)

It was a rainy day yesterday. Quite miserable really. I decided to brighten the day with an evening visit to one of our local theatres to see a performance of "Julius Caesar" by a little known English playwright called William Shakespeare. Have you heard of him? 

"Julius Caesar" is a play I know well. I used to have to teach it in preparation for national SATS tests for fourteen year olds. Most of our children hailed from a sprawling council estate where there was significant deprivation so you can imagine how well they warmed to "Julius Caesar".

Sitting directly in front of me was Nicholas Clegg, Britain's former deputy prime minister and my local Member of Parliament. He's a Liberal Democrat. Funny how he was sitting there in a warm theatre while Labour activists were knocking on doors around our neighbourhood in the pouring rain.
Brutus in the foreground, Caesar in the middle
"Julius Caesar" is of course an intense play to do with loyalty, political intrigue and power. The gruesome scene where Caesar was stabbed multiple times upon the steps of The Senate naturally made me think of Borough Market on Saturday night.

When it comes to Shakespeare I am a bit of a traditionalist. I prefer productions that are clearly in line with The Bard's original vision and focus wholeheartedly upon the meaning of the words. In this production I was not too distracted by the innovative modern setting and costumes but I was puzzled by the fact that the director had turned several of the male characters into women and there were also disabled and black actors on stage. In some respects this wasn't just a nod to political correctness and diversity, it was a warm and full-on embrace.

You see women soldiers running round with machine guns after chaos has been unleashed following Caesar's assassination. It just didn't ring true. This was meant to be ancient Rome - not the jungles of Vietnam.

Ah well, I guess it's just me. Perhaps I'm an old stuck-in-the-mud, not sufficiently "right on". The role of Caesar himself was played expertly by Jonathan Hyde and generally speaking this production has received much critical acclaim. For example, here's "The Guardian":-

If Robert Hastie’s first production as artistic director at Sheffield is a statement of his 
intentions, I hope to be at every show. His modern-dress "Julius Caesar" places theatre 
firmly at the centre of civic life. Yet nothing about it is forced or concept-wilful. Every 
decision works with and for Shakespeare’s text, while gently incorporating the audience 
into the action as spectators, witnesses and analysts. The question dissected here, 
whose answer we must each decide for ourselves, is : what is true rhetoric and 
what is false? In our era of fake news, this is not an academic issue.

Before the evening's performance commenced, the entire audience stood in respectful silence to remember the terrible events that occurred in London on Saturday night but I must admit that as I stood there with head bowed, I was also thinking of the death and the terror inflicted upon Kabul, Afghanistan in the past week. More than 150 people were killed by a suicide bomber and hundreds of others were severely injured..."Cry, 'Havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war." (III, i)

23 comments:

  1. I think Shakespeare can work in the modern context. Did you by any chance see the recent TV play (?Channel4) Charles III, which was written in Shakespearean language and was on the lines of "a tragedy". It worked very well. I also recall seeing an Old Vic production of Macbeth back in the 1960s, where the three witches were played by black women. That caused such a lot of fuss until the director explained that witches were in their time outcasts of society just as black people in the sixties were. I wonder whether Nick Clegg identified with Caesar?

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    1. Sounds like you are more "right on" than I am Addy. I decided not to watch Charles III as I felt it would be somewhat disrespectful to living members of our royal family. As for Nicholas Clegg, during the interval I am afraid I splashed on his shoes in The Gents. "Et tu Cleggus!"

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  2. Must have been a delightful performance to watch. Weather here is miserable as well, but its all good. Greetings.

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    1. Having occasionally visited your blog, I suspect that you would have been more open to this production Blogoratti. I am just heading over there now.

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  3. I like Shakespeare's Julius Ceaser (like you, in a traditional production). It's full of quotes.

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    1. Of course Phlippi figures significantly in the second half of the play.

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  4. Of course modern day events like this are only important if they occur in the UK. I am beginning to think that there should be a news ban on such incidents. I never thought I would say this but the terrorists thrive on publicity for their cause, the media thrive on sensationalism - it is a bit of a circle it seems to me.

    Ah Julius Caesar - Shakespeare knew what he was talking about - there was a time when I knew this play almost off by heart - nothing changes.

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  5. In case anyone should read the above comment otherwise - it is meant as sarcasm.

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    1. I don't want to see pictures of those wicked men. Other nutters will see them as heroes. There's too much oxygen - the oxygen of publicity given succour to these self-righteous nobodies.

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  6. New post. May be of interest. Or not.

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    1. New post from The Master Blogger? I shall go over to RWP later.

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  7. As I read this I can hear sirens all around me in Paris. An incident at Notre Dame I understand. The sirens have been very active for the last hour. Apparently they shot the offender twice very quickly, the French don't muck around.

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    1. I just heard about that on the radio. The scumbag had attacked a police officer with a hammer.

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  8. I often find a disconnect between peoples' reactions to a few deaths locally and to dozens or hundreds of deaths far away or as a result of everyday circumstances such as highway deaths. The suffering for the families is no greater or lesser whether a sudden death is a car accident, a homicide, or an act of war, but for some of these the families become publicly supported and for others they do not. Perhaps the closer to home the violence, the more it gives us pause - if we live in a generally peaceful area.

    I never did warm up to Shakespeare, but I admit that preference makes me feel like a bumpkin.

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    1. You feel like a bumpkin Jenny? That's great because I am a bumpkin! Send me your address and I'll be right over - rather like when you feel like a pizza.

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  9. I am, by nature, a traditionalist when it comes to Shakespeare and opera. However sometimes modern adaptations work well. Sometimes, to, programmes based upon them like the BBC's 'Shakespeare Retold' can work very well indeed. I can't even begin to comment upon the terrorism the world is facing from individuals to leaders of great countries.

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    1. I suspect that you are more open-minded about Shakespeare than I am Graham.

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  10. I'm with you. I like the traditional portrayal. Fiddling with things throws me off my game.

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    1. I don't mind the fiddling if its purpose is convincing and worthwhile.

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  11. I don't recall seeing Julius Caesar in any shape or form but this year I am back in Yr 12 Lit class and we will be doing Twelfth Night.

    Alphie

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    1. What? You're going back to school? Make sure you behave yourself this time round Alphie!

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  12. When it comes to art in any shape - be it the ballet, theatre, opera, music, painting, sculpture or anything else - I have a rather conservative taste. For instance, I don't think each and every theatre performance absolutely HAS to have naked actors on stage. I do understand that sometimes art wants to (or even needs to) nudge people out of their comfort zone, but I don't want to see it. I want to be entertained, and nakedness does that for me in a very different context - certainly not in public.
    That was just an example of what I do not like about many modern productions. I don't know whether the production you describe here would have worked for me or not.

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    1. There was no nakedness in this production. Sometimes I think that a certain breed of arty people like to be daring and different just for the hell of it. It can be very distracting.

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