Bard on the Beach
The Tragedy of Julius Caesar
Dates 28 June to 22 September 2007 Tuesdays through Sunday @ 20.00 Venue Douglas Campbell Studio Stage, Vanier Park, Vancouver
Director Katrina Dunn Costumes Mara Gottler Lighting John Webber Sound Stephan Bulat Set David Roberts Fight Director Nicholas Harrison
Reviewer Ed Farolan
In the old days, this play was a must-read in English classes, and was often included in school dramatic productions, together with Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth. I still remember playing Casca in our high school play, with a cast of hundreds composed mostly of the mob and soldiers. And I've always believed that this is how Julius Caesar should be produced -- the way it was meant to be -- as a spectacle.
This production, however, staged for the first time at Bard, defies the "spectacle" tradition, as it is performed in a small studio stage, with only 13 actors playing multiple roles. And yet, despite this austerity, and some confusion as who-was-who, since the actors played different parts, the play was well received by the opening night audience, and the cast received a warm applause during the curtain call.
Director Katrina Dunn who directs mostly for small theatre plays succeeded in delivering a powerful play with the austerity of sets and a scarcity of actors. In fact, female actors such as Linda Quibell had to play all-male roles (Soothsayer/Decius/Volumnius), and I suppose it was because there were not enough male actors in the cast to play the different male parts.
From an acting perspective, the pacing was fast-- sometimes too fast--but in a play this long, it's almost vital to pick up the pace if you want to keep the production within at least two and a half hours (which was how long the play was). I was pleasantly suprised on how the mob scene was well directed.There were only around eight actors in the mob, during the funeral speeches of Marcus Brutus (Scott Bellis) and Mark Antony (Craig Erickson), and yet, the scene worked well.
I was hoping, though, that Erickson would emote more; I don't know if he saw Marlon Brando in the movie version of this play. Perhaps he should try to "feel" more the way Brando, a graduate of the Actors' Studio, did in the movie. On the other hand, Bellis did a fine job as the remorseful Brutus as did Gerry Mackay who played the "lean and hungry" Caius Cassius. Julius Caesar (Allan Morgan) was regal, overconfident, and the classic Greek hero who meets his downfall because of hubris.
Calpurnia (Melissa Poll) was excellent in her scene with Caesar as she tried to convince him not to go to the Capitol because of a bad omen; likewise, the scene between Portia (Jennifer Lines) and Brutus was also well delivered. Lines played her role superbly as the concerned wife .
From the technical standpoint, I liked the way the platform was placed by set designer David Roberts, centrally, seating the audience on both sides, giving that closeness to the performers. However, I noticed an inconsistency in props, which I believe is the Stage Manager's responsibility. When Caesar is stabbed, some daggers turned red but others remained bloodless. I think there should be more consistency here.
The sound effects and music designed by Stephan Bulat were good; there were just a few moments, in the storm scene of the First Act, where the sound of thunder overpowered the dialogue of the conspirators. Visually, Mara Gottler's costumes were simple but accurate for the Roman period.
I'm glad that this production stuck to the classical, traditional period costumes, instead of experimenting with costume adaptations, which apparently seems to be the fad these days when producing Shakespeare. In the Second Act, the fight scenes directed by Nicholas Harrison were quite good and I'd say commendable; on the other hand, the lighting design by John Webber which was only noticeable in the Second Act, as there was still daylight in the First Act, was straightforward and flawless.
Congratulations to the cast and crew for a unique evening of Shakespearean entertainment!
© 2007 Ed Farolan