Theatre reviews: Julius Caesar | Daniel Getting Married

A fresh take on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar creates some thought-provoking parallels with the present day, writes Joyce McMillan

Company of Wolves in Julius Caesar
Company of Wolves in Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar, Tron Theatre, Glasgow ****

Daniel Getting Married, Oran Mor, Glasgow ****

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In recent weeks, the question of how to end the rule of an overweening dictator has become an urgent one, for many across Europe and the world; and it’s a situation that lends force and poignancy to this new touring version of Julius Caesar, created by the young Glasgow-based Company Of Wolves, which draws on the tradition of Polish laboratory theatre to create striking productions with strong elements of movement and – often – of music and song.

What’s striking about this staging of Shakespeare’s great tragedy, though, is the unusual austerity of its focus on the mighty poetry of the text, one of the most quoted in the whole English-language canon. The dark stage is furnished only with a few chairs, and a single small mobile platform; the five-strong cast moves fluently and powerfully around the space, but never ventures into the subtly different language of dance.

Instead, director Ewan Downie simply allows Shakespeare’s great verse, spoken with thoroughness and clarity in a deftly shortened version, to speak for itself; and over 105 minutes without an interval, Esme Bayley, as chief conspirator Brutus, leads the cast through an extraordinary tragic exploration of the ultimate failure of those of republican mind who want to end Caesar’s dominance in Rome, and whose dream of killing his imperious spirit by simply murdering the man, in a bloody stabbing in the Capitol, eventually proves both futile and counter-productive.

The brilliance of Shakespeare’s play – with its famous funeral scene, demonstrating the power of emotive populism to sweep away republican principles – shines so sharply, in this moment, that some elements of it might have been written yesterday. Bayley receives powerful support from Belle Jones as a glowingly arrogant Caesar, Lawrence Boothman as a passionate Cassius and Megan Lovat as a startlingly forceful Mark Anthony.

There’s no question, here, of Brutus, Caesar or Anthony being played as women; these are simply powerful young female actors, flexing their creative muscles on some of the greatest male characters ever written. Yet the freshness of their perspective helps make the play anew; and if the end comes suddenly, without one or two of Shakespeare’s most famous lines, it leaves us all the more inclined to continue the debate about the political and ethical issues raised by this mighty tragedy, after the lights have faded to black.

There’s more comedy than tragedy in this week’s Play, Pie And Pint lunchtime drama Daniel Getting Married, set in a church vestry somewhere in the Borders, where thirtysomething Daniel – played with robust emotion by Neil John Gibson – is getting ready for his wedding to boyfriend Zach; yet the laughter never detracts from the seriousness of the issues raised in this 35-minute fragment of a piece by JD Stewart, directed by Kenny Miller.

Helped or hindered by his vibrant mother Joy – a star turn by Ann Louise Ross – Daniel is just burnishing his buttonhole for the big event when ex-boyfriend Gabriel suddenly appears, not only reminding Daniel of the intensity of their relationship but also challenging the values and culture of gay couples who are keen, like Daniel and Zach, to mimic the marital and domestic behaviour of the straight world. It’s a fascinating conversation, if all too brief; and it’s certainly no bad thing to leave audiences wanting more of such a powerful debate, about whether gay counter-culture could and should have something more to offer than a kind of compliant merging with the planet-wrecking norms of ordinary suburban life.

Julius Caesar is on tour from 19 April, including dates at Summerhall, Edinburgh, 19 and 20 May. Daniel Getting Married is at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, from 5-9 April.

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