I was born free as Caesar, so were you
The risk about staging a play in the courtyard of the Actors’ Church in Covent Garden is that the piazza is only a few feet away and its crowds and chaos can outshine even the most energetic opening words of Shakespeare’s powerful piece, Julius Caesar. At first, I was frightened by the idea that I would have to lend the actors both my ears in a stronger way than usual, but this memorable production soon took the audience away from the crowd noise and towards the more intimate areas the Actors’ Church has to offer.
There is an infinity of ways to stage Julius Caesar, and Iris Theatre did not disappoint by involving its audience just the right amount, making it stand up, move around, accept roman handshakes and even nod at the soldiers’ inspirational speeches. Director Daniel Winder must have had a fun time turning the inside of the church into a setting that in a first instance presents Caesar’s coronation to Handel’s Zadok the Priest and later sees Brutus fall and hallucinate his lost wife Portia in a sea of fog.
The best part of the entire set was the tent Brutus lives in while preparing for battle. Not only did the actors make the longest static scene of the play seem to go by in a flash, but the warm lighting and effect of the wind blowing close by made us forget our location.
The ensemble of six men and one woman offered the audience a new taste for Shakespeare in a modern and exciting way. Overall the text work definitely presented new twists. As for the cast, David Baynes impressed as Brutus, especially in the discrepancy between his infinite respect and love for Rome and the lack of love he keeps for himself. Nick Howard-Brown was perfectly chosen as Cassius: the actor delivered his lines with a superior modernity to his co-stars and a clear passion for his role. Daniel Hanna also brought a fire to his Casca. I believe the portrayal of Julius Caesar is a difficult one to cast and it may take me many decades to judge which one I will have preferred (I feel the same about Titania).
One can sense the joy and involvement of Iris Theatre in offering Shakespeare to a new audience; if you leave the location going over the humour inserted into the tragic text and recalling your shock and discomfort at even the tenth bloody stab, they must have done something right.