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Progress Theatre - Julius Caesar

Abbey Ruins, Reading, 22nd July to 3rd August 2002. Click here for a map.

Here is the NWN review.

The ruination of Rome

'JULIUS CAESAR', performed by Progress Theatre, in the Abbey Ruins, Reading, from Monday, July 22 to Saturday, August 3

Julius Caesar is the Progress Theatre's eighth open-air production and director Peter Cockman has decided to 'keep it as simple and straightforward as possible.'

A tightly-structured play, it establishes the apprehension at Julius Caesar's ambition to become 'king' in the very first scene and introduces signs that Caesar must 'beware the Ides of March' from the outset. Before its midpoint, Caesar is assassinated, and shortly after Mark Antony's funeral oration - "Friends, Romans, and countrymen...'' - the setting shifts from Rome to the battlefields on which Brutus and Cassius take their own lives.

Julius Caesar has been described as 'somewhat cold and unaffecting' and creates a hurdle for any director. An open-air production does not help and the first half lacked the atmosphere of 'scolding winds' and 'tempest dropping fire' needed to convey the tense foreboding that points to Caesar's ritualistic bloody end in the third act. There is a need to intensify the drama in the first half and not to rely on the rhetoric. For example, in Caesar's murder there is an apparent need to stress the brutality of men who bathe their 'hands ... up to the elbows' in his blood.

Nevertheless, the cast overcame these minor difficulties and Grahame Walsh as a conceited Caesar reveals the arrogance of a man susceptible to flattery who allows himself to be dazzled by his own myth and Philip Davies as arch-conspirator Cassius, driven by envy and rage, captures the 'lean and hungry look' noted by Caesar.

Contrast him to Mark Woolley's tragic Brutus who, untainted by Cassius' motives, sees the murder as an objective necessity if Rome is to remain a republic. He is a moral yet clearly inadequate tactician and central to Shakespeare's tragic vision - a man whose vulnerable ethics ultimately lead to his own destruction. Although Mark Antony's speech, delivered with irony and force by Steve Hall, is probably best-known to a lay audience it is Brutus who takes the lead in this play.

Overall, the production succeeded within the confines of the Abbey's ruined Chapter House and the natural setting of the Abbey wholly complemented the undemanding lighting, set design and sound.

The two-week run will inevitably tighten the drama and prove that the 'creativity and ingenuity' that The Progress Theatre advocate will pay off and ensure the success of this ambitious project.