Shakespeare's Julius Caesar
It isn't often that a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar starts with a rock concert of plebeian revolutionary songs - Eye of the Tiger and We're not gonna take it. It isn't often that Marcus Antoninus introduces himself to the dulcet tones of Katy Perry's Roar. And it isn't often that Julius Caesar himself enters the stadium as an American-style President replete with baseball cap, leather bomber jacket and secret service agents. And yet, this is what Bridge Theater Company delivered in their latest production. And what a ride it was!
The National Theater Live experience allows audiences around the world to view the production from the comfort of the cinema. In my case, it was a scorcher outside, so the two and a half hours inside was welcomed. Immediately, I noticed that the live audience was encouraged to stand at street level and interact with the musicians and the politicians and then they stood on the battle lines as the story drew to its climax. The dynamic set was awesome. Actors were elevated so as to address the mob, or to conduct their murderous conversations. 'Security guards' shepherded the audience around the set and handed out Caesar propaganda. I saw audience members fully immersed in the drama and baying for the blood of the traitorous assassins as Antony gave his final farewell to his fallen general. Caesar was brilliant - the similarities to another world leader could not to be missed.
As an ancient history teacher, I thought that this would be a fantastic experience for students. If they know the story of Caesar's assassination, then they can follow the plot of the play. Students can identify with obvious symbols of power; red star epaulets on Russian-style great coats, guns, military fatigues and exploding ordinances. The pace means there is no time to dwell on the complexities of Shakespearean prose, which can be problematic for some students. The audience simply has no time to think before the next explosion of action.
Shakespeare's work continues to resonate in the modern world. The themes of tyranny, ambition and conflict are as relevant now as they were then. Has anything really changed? I will be using this as a classroom resource. Not only is it an engaging story, it opens the door for discussions about the historical record. Students can read Plutarch's account and look for similarities in the play. Was Shakespeare faithful to Plutarch's account? Where did he deviate? How could he have known the details of conversations? Then there is the obvious question: why did Shakespeare use this story as the basis of his play? Why do we still study Caesar millennia after his assassination? It is critical that ancient history students look at the past to understand the present and make better choices for the future. I am always fascinated by thieir answers.
Enjoy the experience.