Julius Caesar at St Paul’s Church
Just off to the side of St Paul’s Church, mere metres from the hustle and bustle of Covent Garden’s piazza – itself replete with amateur street performers and magicians – an audience several dozen strong fell silent as a faux-dubstep grind ushered in a group of ridiculously clad lads beating riot shields. These Romans’ costumes were absurd – evoking the same camp and cheap take on Mad Max cyberpunk on display in laser tag centres worldwide. Furthermore, the Shakespearian script clashed horribly with the aforementioned aesthetic of futuristic paintball centre employees moving in slowmo to a Skrillex rip-off score. Despite all of this, the script shone through and the powerful performances of the cast managed to win over the evening.
The central plotters in the conspiracy against the titular Caesar were all well cast and portrayed. David Hywel Baynes’ Brutus was perhaps a little lacking in dynamism, constantly peaking at 11, yet he did well to include the sometimes distant and constantly in motion promenade audience. Nick Howard-Brown’s Cassius was by far the most well balanced of the evening’s performances, brilliantly managing audible and convincing delivery without resorting to simply shouting every line as if it were his last (something his fellow cast members occasionally succumbed to).
St Paul’s Church was a true asset and the Iris theatre company indeed put it good use. Some scenes took advantage of the natural stage of the entrance doorway, while others took place in the garden. The memorable tent sequence worked particularly well, with the audience gathered round the mocked up campsite, cross-legged in the dirt. Tellingly, the scenes that took place actually in the church were so nearly fantastic, only to be ruined by the frankly embarrassing music and filmic aspirations of the company. Caesar’s death for example made thrilling use of Handel’s Zadok the Priest, convincingly holding court in the church’s ancient stone walls, yet the moment of his murder was played out in a painfully tacky fashion, with the conspirators suddenly switching to a jarring sequence of simulated slowmo and electronic music.
This company shouldn’t try to make itself “contemporary”. Like placing your copy of the Bard’s complete works in a Billy bookcase, the tacky framing given to Iris Theatre’s version of Julius Caesar isn’t enough to deride the play’s immutable power. Next time, one would recommend using togas and tasteful silence over dubstep beats and cyberpunk body armour.
Julius Caesar is at St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden until 26th July 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre company’s website here.