Fail, Caesar: plenty of blood but not enough guts
Sydney Morning Herald
Saturday March 19, 2011
JULIUS CAESARNew Theatre, March 16Until April 9Reviewed by Jason BlakeTHERE'S nowhere to hide in Anthony Skuse's modern-dress, black-box rendering of Shakespeare's political drama. Which works fine - if you have plenty of horsepower to show off.The production starts strongly and with a good sense of the volatile mob as stripped-to-the-waist youths run amok, hurling handfuls of coloured chalk dust in the faces of their elders and betters.This vision of Rome - enhanced too infrequently by traditional Armenian folk songs arranged by Soseh Yekanians - hasthe unpredictable feel of a refugee camp.The conspirators - Cassius, Casca, Brutus et al - are young men also, which makes the plot against Caesar (a bullish Mark Langham, old enough to be their father) seem as much a generational coup d'etat as a political one. The assassination is hurried and bloodily incompetent. Nervous hands make for messy work. From that point, however, the production loses traction.Casting is often problematic at the New Theatre and Skuse draws from a pool of available talent that doesn't measure up in all respects. Langham and Kurt Phelan (Cassius) have a solid grip on Shakespeare's language and rhythms but elsewhere inexperience is all too obvious.Long before he has to deliver one of the best-known speeches in the English language, Petr Vackar instils little confidence that his Mark Antony has the chops to do so. The crucial funeral oration fails to stir the blood. Shameer Birges's brooding Brutus remains an indistinct character throughout. Kipan Rothbury's Casca needs to take a breath now and then.By Act V we're mostly off the hook. The conspiracy's downfall on the battlefield at Philippi is not clearly articulated. With no strong portrayals among this clique and nothing breath-catching in the violence, we are excused from feeling much at their demise.