You don’t get much Shakespeare at the fringe – something about five-act tragedies not quite fitting into the average hour-long slot – but when you do, they tend to be radically reimagined. That’s definitely true of Julius “Call Me Caesar” Caesar, Owen McCafferty’s one-man version of Shakespeare’s Roman play.
Russell Bolam’s rollicking production sees celebrated stand-up Andrew Maxwell make his theatrical debut, and is basically Shakespeare’s story entirely retold as bar-room anecdote. Caesar is a geezer, Mark Antony a lairy Northerner, Brutus a posh plonker. The audience is the mob: “Caesar! Caesar! Caesar!”, we chant.
A two-time Edinburgh Comedy Award nominee, Maxwell isn’t exactly a polished performer – he fluffs and fumbles on several occasions and has an alarming tendency to roar at his audience – but he’s undoubtedly got charisma, and the coarse, casual nature of his storytelling actually suits the show, as does the brow-beading physicality. He’s good with dialects, too, slipping seamlessly from his native Northern Irish into an array of other accents.
Shakespeare doesn’t always sit well in August in Edinburgh – it often seems staid and sombre compared with the wealth of avant-garde, experimental stuff surrounding it. But this is still a solid show, and a commendable attempt to improve the original’s accessibility.