Most Shakespearean plays are titled for the main character, or, as adapter Stephen Drover says, “whoever is the last character to die.” But Julius Caesar is unusual for a Shakespearean play. Caesar perishes at about the halfway point.
This summer, Bard on the Beach presents a modern take, set in the present, adapted by Drover and directed by Dora Awards nominee Cherissa Richards. The play runs June 15 to Sept. 24 under the tents at Sen̓áḵw/Vanier Park.
The riveting drama tells the story of Caesar, who is murdered by those he trusts — a murder that his closest ally, Mark Antony, is unable to stop. This timeless story, in a modern-day setting, is about the human drive to get and hold on to power — and how order and good government can turn to chaos when personal ambition is unchecked.
Director Richards’ vision for the play centres the character of Brutus, played by Andrew McNee, who struggles with his complicated moral values and makes life-or-death decisions in the pursuit of political freedom and justice.
As Brutus strives for a free and just state, he makes fatal errors that lead to a raging civil war — and ultimately his downfall. A supporter of the republic who believes strongly in a government guided by the votes of senators, Brutus loves Caesar as a friend. But he opposes the ascension of any single man to the position of dictator, and he fears that Caesar aspires to such power. The rigidity of his thinking and his devotion to the republic make him ripe for manipulation and ultimately murder.
“As I read and reflected on the play, I found myself getting invested in the relationships between the characters and their struggles with fears and suspicions of tyranny and ultimate power,” Richards says. “I could see how easily a leader can gain an alarming amount of popularity and control, and how difficult it can be to stand up to them when the stakes are so high.”
Richards approached the casting of the show with a flexible approach to gender. The male characters of Mark Antony, played by Jennifer Lines, and the conspirators Cassius (Emma Slipp), Casca (Olivia Hutt), Cinna (Naomi Ngebulana) and Trebonius (Alexandra Lainfiesta) are all played by women. “I wanted to use the best actors for the part, and reflect that politically, it’s no longer a man’s world.”
Drover points out that Shakespeare sometimes wrote Roman plays using Rome as a stand-in for the London of his time. “It might then be appropriate for us to carry on this tradition,” says Drover. “Rome is here, now.”
Julius Caesar runs in repertory with ‘As You Like It’ until Sept. 30. Tyee readers can enjoy 15 per cent off up to two regular tickets for select zones and performances of ‘Julius Caesar’ with the code 23jctyee. For more information visit the Bard on the Beach website.
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