Julius Caesar (2012): Donmar Warehouse
PrJulius Caesar (2012)
PRINCIPAL CAST: Frances Barber (Caesar); Clare Dunne (Portia, Octavius Caesar); Jenny Jules (Cassius); Cush Jumbo (Mark Antony); Harriet Walter (Brutus).
This production ran from 30 November 2012 - 9 February 2013. It was an all-female production set in a women's prison, although using Shakespeare's play as a play within a play as the setting was a frame. The production also played at St Ann's Warehouse, New York City from 3 October - 9 November 2013.
"This strikes me as an important production. Lloyd pushes her vision very hard, perhaps to the detriment of its logic. The elaborate framing device of the play-within-a-play doesn't quite work. But even if it's not a Julius Caesar for purists, this is visceral and exciting theatre." ~ Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard, 5 December 2012, in Theatre Record 2012, Issue 25-26
"When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island, he highlighted a passage in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar as inspiration. In a sense, Phyllida Lloyd's bold new production picks up on this, setting the play in an all-female prison. The Donmar is stripped back to cold, grey walls; the harsh lighting illuminates metal walkways; the audience, on plastic chairs, become withnesses to a performance that, we guess, has been granted for cathartic reasons. The fact that the actors are all female, the continual presence of the prison guards and the occaisional brusque suspension of the action when prison life intervenes, all lend a distancing effect, emphasising the way the story, though specific, becomes almost a template for revolution and its unintended aftermath....A highly charged, uncomfortably edgy evening is led by some superb performances, none better than Harriet Walter's luminously pale, troubled Brutus....She is met by Jenny Jules' impetuous Cassius, Cush Jumbo's disingenuous Mark Antony and a nicely cynical Casca from Ishia Bennison." ~ Sarah Hemming, "A vivid cell-block Caesar", Financial Times, 6 December 2012
"Some nights the theatregoer knows something genuinely important has happened: a seismic shift in the possible. I had nurtured doubts - who wouldn't? - about Phyllida Lloyd offering, in a bleak December, an all-woman version of Julius Caesar set as if it was being rehearsed by women prisoners. I was wrong. Bunny Christie's design turns the Donmar into a prison gym: plastic chairs, iron galleries, CCTV, hard neon. The echoes are harsh and jangling: pallid inmates in grey tracksuits are marched in. And this is Shakespeare's rawest, most macho, strident and violently political play: for its last Royal Shakespeare Company outing Greg Doran set it in post-colonial Africa; before that we had Lucy Bailey's wolfish, blaring, barrel-chested thriller. But these ladies make both look almost sissy....Others stand out: Jenny Jules's sulky Cassius, Cush Jumbo as a thoroughly ruthless Mark Antony, absent-mindedly shooting hooded prisoners during conversations..." ~ Libby Purves, The Times, 6 December 2012
"Julius Caesar has been murdered and police are seeking a director armed with a 'great idea'. Old joke, maybe, but the Donmar Warehouse has come up with a heavy-handed, messy production of the Roman assassination play. Director Phyllida Lloyd makes it an all-female cast. Er, OK. Tell us more....Dame Harriet Walter plays Brutus. She is an actress of rare composure, yet I am not sure I ever really thought she was either a great politician or a prisoner playing that politician. I just thought: 'Ooh, look, it's Harriet Walter doing her grande-dame enunciation thing again.' Cush Jumbo, as Mark Antony, is the most persuasive of the three main parts, but her 'Friends, Romans' speech is a flop. Director Lloyd makes her begin it lying down for some reason. The reactions of the crowd, far from being something organic and volatile, are delivered as disco-whoop shouts. One of the greatest stage moments of political oratory is rendered nonsensical." ~ Quentin Letts, Daily Mail, 7 December 2012, in Theatre Record 2012, Issue 25-26
"Impressively cocking a snook at the sceptics, Lloyd's fine cast - which included Jenny Jules as a vehemently incisive Cassius and Cush Jumbo as a beautiful, dangerously charismatic Mark Antony - seem to be working on the principle of Ed Hall's all-male Propeller company: that the objective is to seize the essence of the character, not to go in for any distracting impersonation of the opposite sex....Of course the overall concept can be used to justify certain simplifications. Instead of Shakespeare's more nuanced and equivocal Caesar, we get, for reasons I can't reveal, Frances Barber's butch, swaggering bully - a campily crude villain with an emphatic way of sharing doughnuts. But it also allows for a potent doubleness in, say, Harriet Walter's wonderfully searching performance." ~ Paul Taylor, "Female cast deliver with brute force", Independent, 6 December 2012
"For as long as I can remember, actresses have complained that there aren't nearly enough decent parts for women. Now they are taking radical steps to remedy the situation. This is an all-female production of Julius Caesar, one of the most masculine of Shakespeare's plays, with just two small parts for women. I was rather hoping that the wives of Brutus and Caesar would be played by men in drag, but this is a feminist closed shop and chaps aren't allowed....Before seeing this, I vowed that I wouldn't resort to Dr Johnson's notorious line in which he compared a woman's preaching to a 'dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all.' And in fact some of the acting is excellent, with the great Harriet Walter, sporting an exceptionally nifty haircut, in particularly strong and persuasive form as an often anguished and deeply sincere Brutus. She is well matched by Jenny Jules, who splendidly captures both the intemperance and the emotional neediness of Cassius. Watching the pair at their best, you genuninely forget their gender and simply admire their acting, and the truth of their response to Shakespeare's richly drawn characters. But Frances Barber is little more than a ranting, leering pantomime pantomime villain as Julius Caesar, and it is a great relief when she gets her quietus, which in this production involves a bottle of bleach being forced down her throat. By the time the conspirators have pulled on bright-red Marigold gloves to signify their bloodstained hands, and Mark Antony's great rabble-rousing speech over Caesar's corpse has been squandered by crass, attention-seeking staging, one begins to feel it's not just Caesar who has been murdered, but the play itself." ~ Charles Spencer, "All-female slaying of Caesar", Daily Telegraph, 6 December 2012
"Lloyd's concept is clear: we are watching a group of bolshie women prisoners putting on their version of Shakespeare's study of political assassination. And the result is a bit like Peter Weiss's Marat/Sade in that we are constantly aware of how the drama is shaped by the institutional setting. The evening starts with the prisoners lined up in their drab, grey uniforms....But the acting all round is strong. Jenny Jules makes a fiery Cassius all too clearly aware of Brutus's errors, as signified by her unwillingness to seize Mark Antony's hand after Caesar's muder. Cush Jumbo both relishes Mark Antony's slippery rhetoric and reminds us of the character's built-in arrogance....And the production does not have the rich political resonance of Gregory Doran's recent post-colonial Africa version." ~ Michael Billington, The Guardian, 5 December 2012, in Theatre Record 2012, Issue 25-26