There’s mutiny afoot on the pirate ship, Rome. Fresh from his victory over former captain Pompey, Caesar’s tyrannical command causes unrest amongst the crew. A mutiny supported by first mate Brutus might help restore democracy to the ship, if greed and in-fighting don’t get the better of the mutineers’ good intentions.
This is the second production I’ve seen by Some Kind of Theatre. Last year’s Steampunk Tempest was a little rough around the edges, but inventive, funny, and ultimately true to the source material.
I’m surprised they chose Julius Caesar as a follow-up – if I had to guess, I’d have expected them to stick with the comedies, not tackle one of Shakespeare’s heaviest plays. The other productions of Julius Caesar at the fringe this year include an all-female production described as ‘relevant and gritty’ and a production set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War.
Some Kind of Theatre takes a totally different route, presenting Julius Caesar – with PIRATES! And you know what? I’m all for it. It’s fun, it’s irreverent, and the soothsayer is a talking parrot.
Aesthetically, for the scale of the production it looks great. It’s part of Some Kind of Theatre’s Shakespeare on the Sofa project, portable productions designed to fit into any venue, intended to make Shakespeare accessible to a wider audience.
The storybook backdrop is ingenious, simple but very effective, and the piratical aesthetic is very slick. If you’re smart enough you don’t need a whole lot to make a real impression. It’s a nicely choreographed, visually appealing, concise little production.
The concept of Julius Caesar as a pirate captain is an interesting one – sailing the ship of state, perhaps? Ha. There is some cognitive dissonance from the fact that the characters are now ostensibly outlaws rather than the state government, but given what a light-hearted production it is, I’m willing to let that slide.
I was pleased to see that, silly as the premise is, they didn’t shy away from the play’s darker moments – despite the talking parrot and the swashbuckling swordfights, it’s still a story about politics and murder, and the bloody heart of it comes through.
Julius Caesar has (I gather) a complicated plot and a lot of characters and for the most part they’ve done a good job of condensing it down into an hour and the minimum of players. However, I was a bit uncomfortable the resulting handling of Mark Antony.
In this production, Mark Antony is a woman – and Caesar’s wife, combined with the character of Calpurnia. On one level, the gender flip is a bit of a masterstroke.
When Mark Antony is a woman, you get a story in which Caesar’s murderers don’t expect any retribution because they’d never expect Mark Antony to declare war on them. They let her speak at Caesar’s funeral because they assume they can control her. The line Your voice shall be as strong as any man’s /In the disposing of new dignities takes on a whole new meaning.
But did she really have to be Caesar’s wife? I recognise that someone had to have the portentous dream (that Caesar ignores) but that role could have gone to Antony without their being married.
I’m of the opinion that, as a general rule, you can either have two Shakespearean characters who are, in the original text, close platonic friends be lovers or have one of them be a woman. When you do both, the implications get a little unfortunate.
I’d be more charitable here were it not for the fact that last year’s Steampunk Tempest also contained some… strange cross-gender casting (I’ve never seen a woman play Caliban before, and frankly it’s not an experience I’d like to repeat). I’d suggest that they think through the possible implications in future!
Otherwise, though, I had a good time! It’s not the smoothest Shakespearean production you’ll see at the Fringe this year – some of the cast do struggle at times with the dialogue, making the plot hard to follow for those of us who haven’t read the play – but it’s certainly one of the cheapest, and the only one with pirates. And a talking parrot (puppet).
Julius Caesar (With Pirates) is on until August 18th 7PM @ Black Market. Entry is free, suggested donation £5. Take your friends, get some culture, enjoy some pirate antics.