Finally an all female production of one of Shakespeare’s finest has come to a venue near you. Julius Caesar at the Donmar Warehouse, Directed by Phyllida Lloyd, is led outstandingly by Harriet Walter who plays Brutus. It’s so refreshing to see a cast of women smash the male characters with such control and defiance, in one of the most masculine of Shakespeare’s plays.
Lloyd’s direction is clever and effective, though I was initially confused as to the exact use of the setting. I knew we were in a prison; the audience were on plastic seats, surrounded by grey walls, which emanated a claustrophobic feeling. However, I didn’t work out that the women were inmates purely acting out the play of Julius Caesar until a guard entered to retain the peace. Then the play took to new heights, the brutality and mannerisms of the actors were so harsh and clear that they actually could have been men.
The setting cleverly mirrors certain aspects of Shakespeare’s play; the rage of the characters due to the conspiracies that occur is shown through the rage of the women as they’re imprisoned. The changing of alliances that occur are similar to the everyday lives of prisoners and what one will do to stay alive in such a place; aim to climb up the hierarchy.
Frances Barber, who plays Caesar, oozes controlled malice and her death is carried out in a gruesomely shocking way, which involves the audience as she sits among them, drawing us even more into their play. The acting is strong all round – Jenny Jules as Cassius and Harriet Walter as Brutus play off each other marvellously, a fierce Cassius to a persuasive Brutus. Walter’s hair, slicked back and cut boyishly short, helps with the strength needed from her character as she appears more brutal to the eye, she deftly carries the play.
Though the production was overall effective in showing Lloyd’s concept, I disliked the various interludes of punk rock music used to create a harsh atmosphere, portraying the prisoners as vicious convicts. Instead it provided me with a banging headache. Some of the acting was at moments over the top and Barber’s occasional outbursts of shouting and spitting her words became dull and unnecessary. Carrie Rock’s obviously crazy soothsayer came on naked towards the end, which I found confusing and pointless. It was clearly meant to make a specific point but I thought it drew attention from the main action.
Nevertheless the production was enjoyable primarily for being thought provoking and it was exciting to see that females can pull off one of Shakespeare’s hardest plays. It gives me hope that others will try with some of his other works; I particularly look forward to an all female Hamlet.