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Review: Julius Caesar, at Bridge Theatre

David Morrissey delivers a stirring performance as Mark Antony in an intense production that’s more like being at a rock gig than at the theatre

16 February, 2018 — By Catherine Usher

David Morrissey as Mark Anthony. Photo: Manuel Harlan

RIGHT from the off, Nicholas Hytner’s production generates an unexpected intensity, as the promenade audience members are ushered into the auditorium and a band playing pop classics is encouraging everyone to dance and enjoy.

David Morrissey’s Mark Antony even pops up on stage to bounce around in his tracksuit. With such a vibrant live performance and drinks in plastic pint glasses, it’s more like being at a rock gig than in the theatre.

But this isn’t a gimmicky show, attempting to bring the Bard to the yoof market. The promenade performance adds greatly to the atmosphere and the crowd scenes are brought to life by the audience becoming integral to proceedings.

The elevated stages and assertive ushers mean that the standing audience members never miss a moment of the action, wherever they are positioned. They are guided out of the way of ever-changing sets quite forcefully – there are moments when you can find yourself pinned against a wall to avoid being run over by a passing prop.

David Calder in Julius Caesar. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Morrissey delivers his rousing “honourable man” speech with such passion and authority that it’s perfectly, deliciously ridiculous when he claims not to be an orator like Brutus. He is simply sensational in the role – so convincing that the adoring crowd almost feel compelled to riot by the time he’s finished.

The classic moments throughout the play are savoured but not laboured. Ben Whishaw in particular is the master of understated charm. His Brutus is a bookish assassin, who contrasts well with David Calder’s slippery, crowd-pleasing Caesar.

Having Cassius portrayed by a woman (a fantastic Michelle Fairley) adds an extra frisson to her friendship with Brutus – there’s an underlying implication that she may have romantic feelings for him, adding a thrilling dimension to their power dynamic.

If the thought of being jostled about on your feet for two hours is unappealing, circle seats allow the rest of the audience to watch in comfort. Indeed, it’s the kind of play that would be wonderful to see twice from the two contrasting perspectives. A spectator or a participant – the choice is yours.

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