This production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar by the UnDisposables brings the premise of the work into the present day, using the backdrop of climate change protests to consider the ideas of power and hierarchy. The production is female-led and directed, another movement away from traditional Shakespeare productions, especially in a play with very few women characters.
This new perspective is interesting, but definitely requires an explanation of the context in order to be completely effective. Once it is clear how all of the characters fit into this new setting, the idea of the climate change protests as a leaderless movement, one that could be overwhelmed by political ambitions, brings a new meaning to Shakespeare’s original text. It is particularly relevant in the exchanges between Brutus and Cassius, discussing the relationship between the figurehead and the movement. The metaphor starts out strong, with the pre-show atmosphere that evokes the protests, a particular highlight being ‘oh Julius Caesar’ sung in a way reminiscent of the chants for Jeremy Corbyn. The growing political turmoil illustrated in the opening scenes is very relevant and easily applied to current political events.
The ensemble cast manages an overwhelming number of roles, covering the various conspirators and the wives, servants and friends of the main characters. It is impressive how they tell such a complex story with a cast of only nine people, and in some scenes an actor will leave the stage only to appear again immediately as someone else. Sarah Dean as Brutus is particularly impressive, illustrating the character’s logical, measured response and inner uncertainty opposite the energy and spirit of Rachel Wilkes’s Cassius. Isobel Hughes as Caesar embodies the untouchable, confident leader, and her cool, distant persona adds great effect to the scenes where Caesar haunts the conscience of Brutus after his death. Romo Sikdar-Rahman as Mark Antony delivers some of the most well-known lines passionately, captivating the audience after the climactic moment of Caesar’s death.
Performing in the round, the cast use all of the space available to them, including the area behind the audience, giving an immersive feel to the production and making the audience part of the gathered crowds in some scenes. The modern touches that are added to create the setting of climate change protests are impressive and effective. In particular, the use modern equivalents for elements explicitly mentioned in the original text, such as everyday objects that are used in place of the conspirators’ knives and Caesar’s cloak which is replaced by a stylised high-vis jacket. These are worn by all of the members of the movement, providing an extra visual element to symbolise Caesar’s leadership.
The metaphor for climate change loses some of its relevance in the second act however, which recounts war and battles between the conspirators and Mark Antony, rather than a simply political dispute. The use of space becomes more interesting in this act, with the cast making use of the balcony which overhangs the auditorium, but the action starts to lag behind. It is harder to make the links to an Extinction Rebellion style movement, and the political point becomes lost in the moral ambiguity of the characters. It feels like the production reached its peak at the end of act one, where the choreography and staging of Caesar’s death demonstrates the talent and imagination of this production team. Overall, this is an impressive and imaginative production of Julius Caesar, but the lack of closure for the underlying modern political theme makes the two acts seem almost like separate pieces, and leaves the whole production feeling slightly unfinished.