JULIUS CAESAR: Witness Theatre
JULIUS CAESAR: BRIGHTON FRINGE
- Festival: Brighton Fringe
- Director: Ellen Carr
- Designer: Kelli Des Jarlais
Last year I saw Julius Caesar with original pronunciation at Edinburgh and I'm still reeling from the brilliance of the Donmar production set in a female prison.
But this was tame compared with Witness Theatre's Brighton version in which the theatre was presented as a fetish club with the audience – as the club-goers and citizens – being told that we could "touch if invited" but should remember that 'no' means 'no.'
Often I think of Carrie from the musical Carousel who complains of a production: "All of them were dressed in night gowns and it made me sleepy." Not here.
Programme notes stressed that Fifty Shades of Grey has brought the world of fetish into the mainstream but the sexual orientation is complex here with some of the characters (notably Caesar) being rewritten as lesbians.
Caesar also happens to be a celebrity disc jockey. Her partner, Calpurnia, is played by an elfin blonde but Portia (though not rewritten as a man) is played by a hairy-chested lad in a frock. You can't fault the company for bravery and some of the lines appeared newly-minted, notably when Mark Antony tells Caesar that "ambition should be made of sterner stuff." The company show many positives, notably not taking themselves or the text too seriously but retaining a high standard of verse-speaking. The sole exception is Brutus who frequently slips out of the metre into modern colloquialisms to no good effect and with a lack of confidence that destroys the narrative arc of his soliloquies. Whatever your sexual orientation, the production is exceptionally sexy with nudity and titillation of all sorts. Murder and suicide involve use of gas masks, a clever skit on the theme of erotic asphyxiation.
This is the very opposite of a 'concept' production but rather physical theatre where the director has enough respect for the text as written to keep it in sight at all times and derive buoyancy from the signature speeches. There are many shortcomings but if a bright young theatre company full of good-looking performers can't do provocative erotic things with Shakespeare at a fringe festival then we have lost the spirit of his work.