By Ash Cottrell
What’s better than an evening out with a glass of prosecco and a side of The Bard? Last Friday night was precisely this kind of evening at the dynamic, fortyfivedownstairs, with the hotly anticipated opening night of, Julius Caesar – brought to life in this iteration by, Melbourne Shakespeare Company.
The way I see it, the pre-Covid energy of Melbourne is back and nights like these remind me of the exhilaration of theatre in this city before we all became reclusive. Not to mention, fortyfivedownstairs continues to be one of the best places in Melbourne to see theatre, on account of its spatial versatility.
When it comes to Julius Caesar, I must admit that I’m not particularly familiar with the text. This is a surprise to me, considering it explores all sorts of exciting things that interest me dramatically such as, political treason, ambition, power (to name just a few). Upon reflection, I think that the contemporary landscape of television (for example) seems to be tipped in the direction of these grand themes with the overwhelming popularity of series’ such as, Succession and Yellowstone, for example. I was right there for these epic themes and for the ambition and intrigue to enfold with vigour and bombastic performances. In this case, I got a reasonable handle on the arc of the play and its specificities, thanks to the company’s accessible approach to the content.
In my experience, I find that the risk with Shakespeare is that the actors don’t make the language their own and thus, the audience becomes disengaged. This certainly wasn’t the case here, with particular kudos to, Mark Yeates, who played Casca/Messala. Albeit a smaller role, the performance was strong and incorporated humour and an accessible realism. Further, I was engaged by the performances of the two brothers, Matthew Connell (Marcus Brutus) and Mark Wilson (Caius Cassius) who established a comradery and intimacy that served them well in their plotting. With respect to performance, it would be remis of me not to mention the two other stars of the show, Natasha Herbert, (Marc Antony) and Hunter Perske, (Julius Caesar), whose collective stage presence and energy were palpable.
The production design (Dale Ferguson), costumes (Aislinn Naughton & Savanna Wegman) and lighting design (Kris Chainey) were all solid and took me to places reminiscent of, A Clockwork Orange. With some intriguing and bold choices made to create this world, I was engaged and enjoyed the dramatic choices that heightened the big energy of this show.
There were a few opening night line stumbles that took me out of the performance but only for moments and the actors recovered well enough. Overwhelmingly, my only real criticism was that I didn’t see (outside of the costume design), how the play had been contemporised as it purported to be.
Julius Caesar is playing until the 3rd of September and whether you’re dipping your toes into the world of Shakespeare or characterise yourself as a full-blown aficionado, this one is a bit of fun.
Image: Chelsea Neate