“The fault,dear Brutus…” Julius Caesar BBC4

I am sorry, but I had to turn the JULIUS CAESAR [BBC 4}off last night. This is not because I am old school, nor is it that I don’t believe women can play mens’ roles. This prestigious production by Phyllida Lloyd and with Dame Harriet Walter playing Brutus was set in a women’s prison, something which we were tediously reminded of during the play itself with the odd expletive which undermined the play on several occasions. It presumably was meant to emphasise the relevance of the production.

Setting a play with ‘a concept’ like this often rides against the play and you have to be incredibly careful how you do it. Also could we not simply accept as adults that you can do this play with an all female cast and something integral will happen to it, without adding another layer which in the end merely obfuscated what the play was about? In other words, though one might say in the production’s defense, that the play is about patriarchal power and these women prisoners are victims of that power, I do not really see that resonating enough to make it work. and for me it failed almost totally. Only the performance of Jackie Clune as Julius Caesar really excited and challenged me.

Violence, we observe, is sadly more and more common in our society and presumably some of the prison ‘characters’ had witnessed it, been victim to it, or acted it out. They would also perhaps understand about lobbying for position in a gang situation. None of this – where the ‘concept’ may have actually really served the piece – was apparent to me in the production.

In the end though, whether it was the ‘concept’ that confused actors, the text, though incredibly clear, beautifully phrased etc had one blanket of emotional panicky pace which meant to me almost nothing . I neither cared about the prison ‘characters’ nor the characters in the play.

As someone who has been in a production of this play, I do think the second half is challenging for cast and director .The play does such a great job of building to the unleashing of violence that it is hard to know what happens next. i suppose it is simply that having committed the assassination the characters fall from their lofty heights with Brutus struggling for his honour in a sea of dishonour and bloodshed which ultimately overwhelms him.

 

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One thought on ““The fault,dear Brutus…” Julius Caesar BBC4

  1. Tony Hegarty

    As Max says above, we did this play when we both co directed a theatre company based in London. In the production he played Brutus and I directed; watching a famous director, Phillida Lloyd, make such a mess of it made me realise how good our production actually was. Ceasar, in the assassination scene, gets himself into such a trap of intransigence and authoritarianism that it is not difficut to stick the knife in: Shakespeare wrote it that way and we covered the stage in blood; so why can’t a director trust that scenic structure that builds to a climax so conveniently?
    The same beautiful structure of slow build to climax exists in the Brutus/Cassius argument in the second half but Harriet Walter’s undisciplined rant made any sense of build up impossible.

    I have no comment to make on the concept, it was totally irrelevant to me, because the acting was so so bad. Had the acting been at least plausible I might have given the concept some interest. The tent scene where the ghost of Caesar appears to Brutus was a classic **** up !
    The major focus (audiences focus in on things and the more things there are the more diffused the focus becomes; it is weakened) the major focus is the ghost (perhaps the director didn’t believe in ghosts which is a pity because if modern horror films are anything to go by most people do). The ghost frightens Brutus because he feels guilty about the murder..it really is as obvious as that …but no the whole structure is destroyed by adding a dream like dance with Ceasar and the appearance of Portia, Brutus’s dead wife, so it becomes a Jungian fantasy nightmare with mixed figures; focus all gone , point missed and anyway don’t you have to be wide awake to see a real ghost?

    Reply

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