Julius Caesar review at Holy Trinity Church, Guildford – ‘a lively, contemporary spin’

Jessica Guise and Noel White in Julius Caesar at Holy Trinity Church. Photo: Guildford Shakespeare Company
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In these times of extreme turmoil in global politics, Guildford Shakespeare Company’s contemporary spin on Julius Caesar is highly appropriate. Shakespeare’s Roman tragedy of political assassination followed by a power vacuum leading to civil war has been updated by director Gemma Fairlie into a world of populist propaganda where the people are manipulated by rival leaders in suits for their own dubious ends.

The audience are given placards and encouraged to chant their support for the dictator Caesar in a stage-managed rally where protestors are violently ejected. With a cluster of microphones, TV screen and huge poster portrait, designed by Neil Irish.

The production is all about cult of personality and control of the media. The conspirators may succeed in cutting Caesar’s regime short for mixed motives, but they lose the subsequent PR contest with Mark Antony with fatal consequences.

Staged with the audience on two sides and a raised platform at either end, the larger for public grandstanding and the smaller for more intimate moments, this heavily cut production may not be especially subtle but it is certainly lively with anarchic mob rule and choreographed battle scenes. Elena Pena’s sound design of cheering crowds and military manoeuvres is highly effective, as is Peter Harrison’s dramatic back lighting, in a show that benefits from the august surroundings of the neo-classical Holy Trinity Church.

With gender-equal casting, Johanne Murdock stands out as a deeply self-conflicted Brutus whose honourable intentions are undermined by supercilious stubbornness, while Chris Porter’s bitter Cassius burns with restless energy. Jack Wharrier makes the most of his rabble-rousing funeral oration, and Noel White’s arrogantly deluded Caesar seems to believe in his own myth-making.

Lively contemporary spin on Shakespeare’s political thriller