Nicholas Hytner’s production of Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre has gotten strong reviews — and it’s one I still needed to cross off my list for my goal of seeing all of Shakespeare’s plays before I turn 40 — so Friday night after work I went down to the south bank of the Thames and saw it.
There was no stage. Well, not a proper one anyway. The theatre would normally be “in the round” with the audience on all four sides and the stage in the middle. But here they actually opened up the middle and had a bunch of audience members standing there, like at a rock concert. In fact, it was a rock concert. A rock concert, a political rally, a mob scene, a public funeral, a revolution. As the action progressed, the actors came out into the crowd, sometimes raised above them on platforms, sometimes down among them indistinguishable.
The dictatorial Caesar was an portly politician who appealed broadly to the masses with endearing affability while in private conferences displaying an unsettling attachment to power and unwillingness to empathize with other mere mortals. Brutus (played by Q from the Bond series) was a bookish intellectual with revolutionary ideals about freedom and human dignity, and who mourned the transformation of the Roman republic into the autocratic Roman empire.
I liked it. I agreed with the reviews that it was strongly acted, well directed, and felt politically relevant and gripping. And in addition to everything else, I really liked the diversity of the cast. Many of the “male” characters were played by women; many of the actors (men and women) were not white but black, Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern — way more people of color than you typically see on American stages (or in American politics).
After the play I strolled along the Thames. The Bridge Theatre is aptly named, being at the base of the Tower Bridge. Many of London’s most iconic landmarks are visible — the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, the Armadillo, the Shard, the Gherkin, the Walkie Talkie. And the cool spring weather was perfect for walking and soaking it all up.