Friday, August 8, 2014

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar: the performance had been stabbed and killed


Julius Caesar and William Shakespeare, two huge names that made a difference in the world. What do they have in common? Well, William Shakespeare wrote a play about the Tragedy of Julius Caesar. Believed to be have written in 1599 the play is based on the true events of the assassination of Julius Caesar and then the Battle of Philippi that was the defeat of the conspirators. This play is one of three that are based on actual events in Roman times; the other two being Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra. There have been many renditions of this play, including recently an all female cast.

John Wilkes Booth(left) as Mark Antony

Though it has been debated who the main lead of the play is Julius Caesar or Brutus. Is it the man who has the title of the play, Julius Caesar? The character that has the most lines, Brutus? Or maybe the actor that commands the most presences and captivates you?  As for the performance that I saw, it would have been who delivered their lines the best and whom was the most captivating. Unfortunately I was not that impressed with this production of Julius Caesar. Now I will say that this play isn’t my favorite of Shakespeare and I have never truly cared about the story of Julius but that is due to school shoving it down our throats when I was younger.  I went to see this production because I was interested on how the director chose to show the world his work along with Shakespeare. Also who can truly say no to £5 standing ‘seats’ to watch Shakespeare?! I couldn’t. I love Shakespeare immensely and would probably go see any of his plays being performed, though there are some that I would buy quicker than others.
Having seen a Shakespeare play at the Globe before I had confidence that this performance would be amazing. Well, it was amazing, just amazingly disappointing. My expectations were so high that afterwards I was left wanting. I wanted more! I wanted to be thrilled and amazed and astounded. Wanted to be on the side of Mark Antony who has defeated the conspirators, wanted to feel sorry that the beloved and epic man Julius Caesar had been stabbed 33 times. But I was left disappointed. I never thought I would say that about a Shakespeare performance. Now it wasn’t the fact it was a tragedy that left me feeling this way, because who in their right mind would be happy at the end of a tragedy? Well, I was when I saw Macbeth in 2010. That performance made me want to see it over and over again. Macbeth is a tragedy and I was a happy little giddy girl when I left that performance. Now was it the fact that I was in the yard, and a groundling? Nope, had done that before since I believe that is the best way to experience the performance.
            So what was the big difference in these two performances? Main difference was the directors, Lucy Bailey vs Dominic Dromgoole, and their actors of choice. I cannot say much on the vision of the play for each director since it was two difference plays but also that I do believe that both of their visions were successful. Both were set in the English Elizabethan time period. Macbeth a little more Scottish since that is where the play is based, while Julius Caesar was performed as if we were watching it 1600 Elizabethan England. I had no problem with them wearing hats, doublets, tights and breeches. Especially if you read closely Casca mentions “he plucked me ope his doublet and offered them his throat to cut” (I.ii.262) and while sharing about Julius refusing the crown three times from Mark Antony, “chapped hands and threw up their sweaty night-caps and uttered such a deal of stinking breath because Cesar refused the crown” (I.ii.2.245-48). 
I can comment and analyze is the actors and the delivery of their lines and presences on stage. This aspect was completely different from one another. As soon as Macbeth started you were enthralled, never taking your eyes off the stage, except for when the dead bloody soldiers came up through the black cloth that came into the yard from the stage grounds. When they would appear through the torn holes of the icy hell and then return through the walkways, you watched in either horror or amazement but once they were gone, your eyes were drawn right back to the stage to whomever was on it. They didn’t need to be saying a word, no lines spoken at all, just standing there and you’d just want to watch what they were going to do next. 

This was not the case with Julius Caesar. Not every actor commanded the stage the same, and not due to the character they were playing. When Julius Caesar walked out himself, the only reason why you knew it was him was either because you figured it’d be the old dude walking out or due to the reaction of the other actors (though some of their reactions weren’t that convincing), the actor playing Julius Caesar did not command the stage. 

Julius Caesar not command the stage, I would have never thought I’d think that. A Roman Emperor that conquered so much and is so well known, not command attention when he walked into a room, that I’d speculate would make the real Julius Caesar roll in his grave. Besides the fact that he did not command attention when he walked out, he was extremely hard to hear. He could not project his voice. My first wonder was is due to the little bit of extra stage that they had created, though not that big it did take them more into the yard and not under the roof of the stage. But no, as time went on and he moved around to different sections of the stage he was still very hard to hear. He seemed to be the only one with this problem constantly. 

Cassius and Brutus when they would talk the projection about 90% of the time was perfect. Though the times that I believe that it was hard to hear both was when it was supposed to be more secret or asides. So if that was the case, I may be more forgiving and understanding as to why I was not able to hear each word they said. The spectacular projection of both Portia and Mark Antony was amazing. When they spoke you heard them, you felt them and they commanded presence. What made the fact that not being able to hear someone or being able to have the command of presence so frustrating is that in Elizabethan times(and I wish more often today) you did not got to the theatre or Shakespeare to see the play, you went to hear the play. Everything was about the words being spoke, the beautiful prose, the bawdy comments, the spectacular words being said by the actors and flowing into your ears. This was not being done in the performance and that is what killed it most of all.
Though I was not enjoying the performance like I had hope, I stayed for the entire show. Wanting and hoping that something spectacular would happen. The second part was better than the first. I felt bad for the actor because you could tell that many people had left during intermission. All of a sudden there was more room in the yard to stand, gaps through-out the whole area could be seen. I knew that if I could tell the difference that the view from the stage must be heart breaking. As someone who has performed on stage, the audience’s reaction to your performance is what tells you how successful you are. With the beginning of the second part with less people, had showed the actors that their performance was lacking. Something needed to change, and I am not sure if that is what made the second half better or if it was what Shakespeare had written that made it better.

The preparing for the Battle of Philippi and then the action of the battle made the second act have more life. But most of that action came from, people running on and off the stage, mostly through the yard audience, and then the fools dressed in armor and making loud grunting and military calls while marching and trusting around the stage, that looked more Roman, shields and either a spear or sword. Mark Antony and Brutus were the strongest of the actors in the second half. Both commanding the stage and projecting. Cassius was better as well, though with all the action that was happening sometimes would get lost within it all. When the show was done the audience clapped their appreciation but then the most energetic part of the show happened, their haka like dance that included all the performers happens. Loud music and energy came from the stage. 

As I left I wasn’t truly happy with the performance which, as said before, was a new experience. Leaving Macbeth four years earlier happy and thrilled, this feeling of despair and unsatisfactory was unpleasing. It was a new experience but what made it more disappointing is that with having seen both in movie and play form Shakespeare plays, I had been never before that night been disappointed by a Shakespeare play. The positive side of it all, it has not discouraged me from seeing another performance at the Globe or a Shakespeare play. I will go again! I will see another play! Nothing will ever stop me from hearing or seeing a live performance of Shakespeare. 

 Macbeth 2010: Londonist and The Guardian
Julius Caesar: Globe- theartsdesk and then the all women cast: The Guardian

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