Publish on Public Reviews on the 3rd February 2015
There’s a lot of hard work on display in Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’s version of Julius Caesar, adapted by Toby Hulse for a family audience. There is hard work from the four performers who take on multiple roles with just a jacket change to support them, hard work in the physical staging that Hulse has created, playful and prepared to utilise a bit of everything for maximum effect, and hard work in the writing that never fully gels the contemporary interludes with Shakespeare’s verse.
Julius Caesar is the most exciting of Shakespeare’s texts, pure visceral entertainment, full of intrigue, political machinations, glorious rhetoric and battles. Hulse’s interludes add to this international news reporters, a #BewareTheIdesOfMarch hashtag gathering retweets, audience interaction, some a capella singing, a funny treatment of the Cinna the Poet scene and some rather nifty choreography in the battle sequence. It sometimes veers close to pantomime (with some over-egged deaths to match) and I’m not convinced the added text makes the story any clearer, but the performances keep it all from keeling over.
The all-female cast (there is an all-male one next week utilising the same script but under a different director) burns with energy through the hour and keeps a strong tempo throughout. As second year students at Bristol Old Vic they are still learning, and can be forgiven that the verse speaking is occasionally fluffed – that modern fault of dropping off at the end of a line can’t work in verse where the drive is towards that end. Each juggles one of the main characters with a host of sub-characters and each makes a strong impression. Jessica Nicklin is a scheming, devious Cassius, Whitney Kehinde plays the conflict if not the all-action Brutus, Alais Morrie is bookish and thoughtful as Mark Antony and Jennifer Haynes is an ingratiating Caesar.
It’s an interesting first look at a new group of students and it would be fascinating to be able to view the other, male version to compare and contrast. One imagines there is stronger work from them to come, but it’s a more than satisfactorily first outing for a brand new batch of Old Vic actors who we’ll see develop over the next 18 months