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Julius Caesar - Another Bladder Buster?


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#71 exuberantlyblue

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 12:34 AM

So THAT will be one theatre experience I will never, ever forget! Wow.

I was lucky enough to snag a front-row Barclays ticket two weeks ago, and I was looking forward to seeing this even though it had mixed reviews, because (1) I've loved all the Donmar productions I've seen [RII, Recruiting Officer, Making Noise Quietly] and (2) because Harriet Walter was in it (I've adored her ever since I saw her as Harriet Vane when I was a teenager).

The space is utterly transformed. I mean, I guess it's the same size, but I wouldn't have recognised it if you'd shown me a photo. Awesome set, very bare and with the dreaded plastic chairs (in the stalls - the circle has what looked like very comfy and plush red velvet benches). Actually, though, I found the plastic chairs perfectly comfortable. They're not flat, if that makes sense? I wouldn't be surprised if they were like "ergonomic" or something. My rear didn't get tired despite the 2 hrs w/out interval and my rear is ample.

As for the play itself, I really enjoyed it. Yes, it's a different sort of interpretation, but it worked for me. I thought all the actors were simply superb. Frances Barber as Caesar was magnetic in an uncanny way, which worked perfectly. Cush Jumbo as Antony was freaking awesome - hers was a minor role until after Caesar's death, but then she came alive. Carrie Rock as the soothsayer was appropriately odd and scary, particularly on a tricycle. Ishia Bennison as Casca was quite well done in a smaller but memorable role - I loved her dryness. Meanwhile, Clare Dunne was gorgeous and amazing - although I didn't really get why she doubled as Portia and Octavius Caesar? I mean, she did an excellent job as both, particularly as Portia, and the characters didn't overlap so I guess why not, but it was a bit strange. I loved her accent, and the scene between her and Brutus was one of my favourites.

And then of course then there were Brutus (Harriet Walter) and Cassius (Jenny Jules). Both of them were amazing. Walter played Brutus as a true troubled and conflicted soul - or rather played a prisoner playing Brutus! [More on that later.] Jules's Cassius was passionate to a fault, the perfect counterweight to Walter's Brutus and a master portrayal. Since the play centred on them - with the exception of the aforementioned tendency of Barber to magnetically draw all eyes whenever she appeared - they both needed to be thoroughly solid, and they more than were. I grant that I'm biased because I love Walter, but I still thought she was amazing, and Jules was a revelation.

The setting in a women's prison was an interesting touch. Shades of the Young Vic Hamlet, but different. For one thing, the actors in this break character at points, interacting with the framework in a way that the Hamlet didn't. This was a bit jarring the first time, but then I assimilated it and liked the extra touch it added. The simmering frustration and rage underneath some of the characters was an interesting added fillip, and it made the ending of the play work well.

And then of course there was the reason I'll certainly never forget this play - which I can't tell you. xD If you've been, you'll immediately be able to guess. Quite - well! (!!)

Everyone around me and on the stairs afterwards seemed to have really enjoyed it. Seriously enthusiastic clapping and some standers, and lots of talk on the way out about how great it had been. For some reason I'd expected it to have empty seats (which it didn't that I could see) and lukewarm reception, but this wasn't the case. The atmosphere was great.

Oh, one last thing - at least two of the people in the front row were I think genuinely new to the Donmar (I mention it because of all the talk about the Barclay seats and who they were going to). I say this because the woman in the couple spent ten minutes before the show looking at every person in the audience to try to find celebrities because "it's the DONMAR" (said in awed hushed tones) and obviously they would be everywhere. She was so happy with her date for managing to procure tickets. It was very cute. :)

#72 xanderl

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 06:59 AM

That's really sweet :)

And it's exactly the audience Josie Rourke was aiming at - people who assume the Domnar is impossible to get tickets for. Unless they were drama students she had hired ;)
"witty ... both made me laugh but also gave me pause" - Mark Shenton, The Stage

#73 Latecomer

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 08:21 AM

Not all "new audience" - Peggs and I were there last night as well!

Lovely to "meet" you exuberantly blue - you did have a fine time of it! Great write up...agree with everything you said and thoroughly enjoyed the night.

Didn't think everything they threw at this worked, but plenty did, and enough to make it great fun! Thought Harriet Walter was exceptional and she made the meaning of the words so clear. The Donmar somehow looks much bigger! Chairs a bit uncomfy, sort of slouched me back but better when I shuffled and sat up straight at the end. One person on the front row used the seat next to them for their bag.....
Saw Frances Barber afterwards on the way out, trying to justify the production to a very elderly lady (!), while her companion rush off to get her a drink  "Pinot grigio for me, please"

A fine night out! B)

#74 popcultureboy

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 08:29 AM

Was there last night too. It was packed, couldn't see any empty seats, front row or otherwise, and there were people standing too. Which, after what I've read on here to the contrary, was a nice surprise.

Really very much enjoyed it. The opening few minutes, with Cush Jumbo singing "When You Walk In The Room" and Frances Barber reading her horoscope out of a trash mag filled me with absolute dread, particularly after seeing and loathing The Changeling earlier in the week. But then it was fine, the concept informed the production from there on in, rather than overwhelmed it. Performances were uniformly excellent, though special mention has to go to Jenny Jules, Harriet Walter and Cush Jumbo, all of whom were exemplary. This was leaps and bounds better than the all black RSC version from earlier in the year, not least because Harriet Walter's intelligent and impassioned Brutus was in a completely different league to Patterson Joseph's bellowing monstrosity.

May well take advantage of the Front Row scheme and go again.

#75 exuberantlyblue

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 11:41 AM

xanderl - I suppose they could have been drama students, lol. Quite sneaky if so. xD

Latecomer - Glad you enjoyed it too! I agree that the Donmar looked enormous and that sitting up straight in those chairs is the best way - the back of them being low meant that slouching back felt quite awkward to me. Leaning forward slightly worked for me too, except when there was an unclothed soothsayer in my vicinity.

popcultureboy - I'd forgotten about the beginning! Yes, that was a bit worrying to me too. (And The Changeling remains the oddest play I've seen all year.) Worrying but effective in inducting me into the mood, though, particularly with the sincerely creepy masks bit. I don't know what it was about those masks but they were scary.

#76 peggs

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Posted 21 December 2012 - 09:24 PM

ah excubertantly blue and there was us feeling for you, i was watching and thinking if that was me i'd been so busy worrying what i was going to do next so i'm glad it made your night. I really liked this, felt strangely vulnerable on the front row before it started and with no usual gulley for Latecomer to roll me into if i panicked and fainted but once it was off i was wondering distracted. Very different from an shakespeare i've seen before and it worked for me, i agree the prison setting and way they play it adds to it and there are rather clever comparisons there. Found Frances Barber a bit predictable and shouty though menacing when silent. Harriet Walter is always superb and continued that in this, beautifully played. Also liked Jenny Jules and Cush Jumbo especially, oh and that sothsayer, nicely done and creepy!

the chairs came me back ache, was like being back at school but they fit the set. Have to admit Latecomer and i also looked for famous people, mainly because we've never seen anyone there, we thought we might have spotted an actor but we had no idea who he was and yes we spotted that bag on chair and wondered if it had been bought a seat specially ;)

#77 Lynette

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Posted 21 December 2012 - 10:01 PM

Loving it.

#78 Kathryn2

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Posted 31 December 2012 - 10:20 AM

I just snagged a seat in the side circle via the Front row scheme. Dissapointed to realise that a stalls seat came free just after I finished buying it - it seems that 10.10am is the best time to try, rather than dead on 10am!

Oh well, at least for £10 I'm no worse off than I would have been day-seating, and didn't have to get up ridiculously early and queue in the cold for it.

#79 Lynette

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Posted 13 January 2013 - 12:27 AM

A bit late onto this one but I did enjoy it. Brilliant cast. I don't think this particular take on the play would work with actors less capable, the main characters. I felt that I was hearing some of the speeches for the first time. Clarity and conviction.

#80 mallardo

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Posted 17 January 2013 - 06:38 PM

I don't know whether it was simply the fact that women were playing the roles but I found myself emotionally involved in a way I have never been with this work.  The few moments of tenderness - Portia's magical musical reappearance to Brutus, e.g. - were so powerful in this setting.  Really, the play was transformed for me.
Excuse me if I seem jejune
I promise I'll find my marbles soon.




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