As the audience arrived at this modern-day production of Julius Caesar they were greeted with television images of Caesar’s conquest of “barbarian” Gaul. Other headlines broadcast news of war in Egypt and a suppressed rebellion in Spain. The implication being that propaganda was as rife in the ancient world as it is today.
Sharply dressed politicos worked the Guildford Shakespeare Company’s audience, encouraging us to support their candidate and organising Mexican waves. This was supervised by sinister-looking spies, busy eroding the liberty which Romans valued so highly. It was easy to see why the play’s conspirators were so outraged by Caesar’s desire for dominance.
Jack Wharrier as Mark Antony wore an elegant suit and shook the hands of the audience as if he were a contemporary politician canvassing voters. Balloons cascaded onto members of the audience, who found themselves in the world of an American presidential campaign.
Most of the characters in Shakespeare’s play are men, but here the director, Gemma Fairley, further updated the production by splitting the parts between male and female actors, with Johanne Murdock (who as it happens looks like Hillary Clinton) doing full justice to the role of Brutus.
Noel White as Julius Caesar was also excellent, bringing energy and regal arrogance to the role as well as steely eye contact.
Chris Porter as Cassius, bitterly hostile to Julius Caesar, displayed convincing anger towards the general and politician. His use of his dagger while speaking the lines “Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world/ like a Colossus, and we petty men/ walk under his huge legs, and peep about/ to find ourselves dishonourable graves” was captivating.
The audience participation went down well with the schoolchildren who filled half of the auditorium, at Guildford’s Holy Trinity Church. It was clear they were engaged and enjoying themselves.
The dramatic heart of the play is, of course, the assassination of Caesar, and the actors performed it skilfully. Mark Antony conveyed well his apparent lack of loyalty to Caesar, to whom he had offered Rome’s crown.
This was a praiseworthy production which drew striking parallels with