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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Theatre review: Julius Caesar offers a thought-provoking exploration of power and its impact

Julius Caesar plays in repertory with As You Like It on the Bard on the Beach main stage through September 23.

Adapted by Stephen Drover and brought to life under the direction of Cherissa Richards, Bard on the Beach’s contemporary adaptation of Julius Caesar navigates the complexity and moral dilemmas in life within the captivating confines of the tents at Sen̓áḵw/Vanier Park.

Julius Caesar is a gripping drama that unravels the harrowing tale of Caesar, a leader betrayed by those he once held dear. Even the unwavering loyalty of his closest confidant, Mark Antony, cannot avert the tragedy of his murder. Set against a contemporary backdrop, this timeless narrative delves deep into the relentless pursuit of power and the dire consequences that emerge when personal ambition remains unbridled, ultimately leading to chaos and the erosion of effective governance.

Richards, driven by her artistic vision, places profound emphasis on the character of Brutus, magnificently portrayed by Andrew McNee. Brutus finds himself entangled in the intricate web of his own moral compass, grappling with life-or-death decisions as he quests for political freedom and the triumph of justice.

Andrew Wheeler as as Julius Caesar in the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival production of Julius Caesar. Photo by Tim Matheson.
Andrew Wheeler as Julius Caesar in the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival production of Julius Caesar. Photo by Tim Matheson.

In his earnest endeavour to forge a society that embraces liberation and equity, Brutus succumbs to fatal misjudgments that ignite a civil war, ultimately sealing his tragic fate. As a champion of the republic, he cherishes his friendship with Caesar. However, he staunchly opposes the ascent of any individual to the dictatorial throne, harbouring grave concerns over Caesar’s insatiable appetite for absolute power. This unwavering dedication to the republic and his unyielding conviction renders him susceptible to manipulation, culminating in the heart-wrenching act of assassination.

Richards has adopted a casting approach that defies traditional gender roles as Jennifer Lines portrays Mark Antony, and Emma Slipp, Olivia Hutt, Naomi Ngebulana, and Alexandra Lainfiesta embody the conspirators Cassius, Casca, Cinna, and Trebonius, respectively. This choice underscores Richards’s intention to select the most exceptional performers for each role while highlighting the evolving political landscape that challenges the notion of a male-dominated world.

Set designer Pam Johnson has ingeniously crafted a contemporary backdrop that blends antiquity with modern technology, bringing the sets to life by including screens portraying captivating imagery created by video designer Candelario Andrade. These elements converge to shape and enhance the narrative, aligning it within a present-day context.

Costume designer Jessica Oostergo directs her focus toward contemporary clothing, utilizing the power of colour and shape to create the world inhabited by Julius Caesar and the conspirators. Through her artistry, the costumes become a visual language that contributes to the storytelling, further immersing the audience in the play’s rich tapestry.

In collaboration with other creative minds, sound designer Kate Delorme employs sound to transport the audience into the heart of the action. Through her expert use of omnipresent sound, she skillfully situates the viewers within the narrative, creating a heightened and immersive theatrical experience.

Stephen Drover has expertly transformed the work for The Bard’s stage, ensuring a seamless and captivating interpretation of Julius Caesar. His adaptation breathes new life into the story, allowing it to resonate with contemporary audiences and engage them profoundly. Through vivid characters and dramatic conflicts, Julius Caesar offers a thought-provoking exploration of power and its impact on individuals and society.

Finally, the play poses two challenging questions: Whom or what are we willing to relinquish for the greater good? Can we prioritize the welfare of the majority over that of a cherished friend or beloved?

Such dilemmas compel us to reflect upon our own existence; they serve as poignant reminders that our world is far from black and white, and selecting the right course of action is often far from straightforward.

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. Directed by Cherissa Richards. Adapted by Stephen Drover. A Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival production under the main stage tent in Sen̓áḵw/Vanier Park through September 23. Visit for tickets and information.

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