Fair reader, you’re in for a treat today. I had the privilege of attending the opening night of the Freewill Shakespeare Festival’s production of Julius Caesar (otherwise known as Shakespeare in the Park) so now you get to reap the benefit of a review. However, I first need to give my thanks to @EJ_Extra on Twitter as I won my tickets from them.
I’ve been going to Shakespeare in the Park every year since high school and I’ve rarely had a bad experience and this year’s production of Julius Caesar was another great experience. The stage design for this year is really beautiful. While the initial impression of blue might seem an odd choice, it actually serves as a great contrast to the generally darker costumes the cast wear (I also have a feeling it works well for the Festival’s other play this year, The Tempest). There are also some great features built into the stage that work well, particularly in the second half, but I won’t go into detail as it’s much more fun to be surprised by them. A shout-out also to the lighting and sound. That fake lightning made me jump a time or two.
The costumes are an intriguing mix of mob chic with lots of dark suits, shiny metallic leggings for the ladies under some pretty awesome, Caesar in long shirts and matching pants, and, my personal favourite, Marc Antony making his entrance in a red tracksuit (he does change into a proper suit later on). Of course, for the second half of the play there’s military jackets, pith helmets, berets, and combat boots galore. Possibly the most interesting choice though is the actors’ make-up, which is extremely pronounced with most faces being painted white, heavy black eyeliner, and black or metallic shades underlining cheekbones (also, Marc Antony has a bit of the game-maker from Hunger Games beard going on for the first half). It’s a very striking look and tends to accentuate facial expressions and the look grew on me once I got past my initial impression that everyone had the face make-up of a French mime.
The cast does an excellent job with the play and although tragedies tend to be far more sombre there are some moments of levity, particularly at the beginning. The two stand out performances for me though were by from Belinda Cornish as Portia and Chris Bullough as Brutus. Cornish brings so much passion to Portia that her performance is riveting, particularly during the scene in which she demands Brutus share his secrets with her. Although the character’s presence in the play is relatively small, she leaves such a tremendous impact that you thoroughly understand Brutus’ later grief over her death. And speaking of Brutus, the play may have Caesar’s name on it, but it’s really all about Brutus. Bullough makes him an amazingly sympathetic character in all of his striving to preserve the freedom of his fellow Romans and you cannot help but feel regret at his inevitable downfall.
A thoroughly enjoyable production even for those who aren’t a fan of the play itself like my theatre buddy, Argenplath. As mentioned above, the Festival is also doing The Tempest which I will also be seeing some time in July, so look forward to that review in the next few weeks. The Freewill Shakespeare Festival is in Hawrelak Park and runs until 22 July 2012.