Phyllida Lloyd’s all female production of William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar is exhilarating.
The story revolves around the murder of the Roman general Caesar by his friends—who feared that his arrogance and power would lead to the Roman republic being replaced by dictatorship.
This version at the Donmar Warehouse theatre in London is set in modern times inside a women’s prison. The interior of the theatre is incorporated into the prison set, with harsh lighting and bleak grey walls.
The audience is seated on hard plastic chairs to emphasise the effect. They watch the “inmates” perform the play while “wardens” patrol above on metal walkways. Then suddenly the wardens intervene in the on-stage violence.
The costumes and props are common items found in prisons. A trolley becomes a chariot.Then red rubber gloves become hands bathed in blood. Battle scenes are choreographed with Pussy Riot style punk rock as the soundtrack.
Harriet Walter is excellent as Brutus, who is pulled between friendship with Caesar and principle. Jenny Jules is also great as Cassius—a fiery, passionate rebel against creeping dictatorship.
Phyllida Lloyd directed the movies Mamma Mia and The Iron Lady, the Margaret Thatcher biopic that portrayed her in a sympathetic light.
She has argued that the Royal Shakespeare Company should be gender-blind and give half Shakespeare’s male roles to women actors.
This production proves the obvious—that actors act. They can transcend themselves and create new worlds. In a production as good as this, the gender of the actors is irrelevant. So I suspect that Shakespeare probably wouldn’t have found it a big deal.
Julius Caesar is on at the Donmar Warehouse in London until 9 February. Go to donmarwarehouse.com