Theatre review: Shakespeare in the Park's Julius Caesar
Veni, vidi, vici
Nobody can resist a juicy political thriller. Imagine a Saturday night in, candles on, a good cup of tea by the bed and bingeing on some House of Cards, West Wing and Game of Thrones. Everything's on the line as you wait for blood to be shed and battle scars to be displayed in a story of power, ambition, revenge, "frenemies" and gender wars. Want to take this to a whole new, 360-degree experience? We recommend a night out with Shakespeare in the Park's production of Julius Caesar.
The annual theatrical spectacle returns after a hiatus to raise funds last year. Directed by Guy Unsworth, this year's production stars many of Singapore Repertory Theatre's alumni thespians, some already familiar with Shakespeare in the Park's unique outdoor setting: Jo Kukathas as Julius Caesar, Julie Wee as Cassius, Ghafir Akbar as Brutus, Thomas Pang as Mark Antony, Shane Mardjuki as Cicero, Daniel Jenkins as Casca and Vanessa Ann Vanderstraaten as Popilius Len. Yes, females play two of the male leads instead, one of the many ways Unsworth's production takes on contemporary themes.
If you're coming into this Shakespeare classic expecting toga tops and swords, you'll need to check that version of the play at the door. Singapore Repertory Theatre has replaced Roman ruins with a set inspired by a hall you've envisioned at the G20 and N.A.T.O. summits. Designed by Richard Kent, the statuesque stage is supported by columns and staircases that further dramatise a character's entry and exit, with the LED screen as its main vocal point. Displaying multimedia designed by Koo Chia Meng and streaming live feed cameras and social media feeds, it's a character in itself, portraying the way we consume news and resources today.
Here, R.O.M.E.'s an acronym for a powerful bloc of world leaders, just as Rome circa 44BC saw itself as a representation of the world order. Five of the seven leaders are involved in a conspiracy against Caesar, a role that Kukathas plays with both wit and authority. Reflecting a female representation of world leaders today and the current gender and power dynamics in politics (think: Angela Merkel, Hilary Clinton, Tsai Ing-wen and Theresa May), Kukathas' casting flips the switch on what you'd expect of Caesar. Wee shines in her role as Caesar's "frenemy", Cassius, stealing the scene as she projects her self-righteousness. Her scenes with Akbar's Brutus are particularly memorable. Pang's Mark Antony charms as he avenges, filling in the shoes of a loyal comrade who's out for blood.
Despite being written over 400 years ago, Julius Caesar remains relevant as you uncomfortably pick out traits in the world leaders of today that are all too familiar. Even if you're not a student of Shakespeare, you'll notice lines borrowed by contemporaries: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars" (the film and novel, The Fault in Our Stars) and "The unkindest cut of all" (used in one too many headlines about hair and circumcision). We're glad Shakespeare in the Park has returned, and here's hoping for more good theatre for Singapore to feed on.
Shakespeare in the Park's Julius Caesar runs till 27 May at Fort Canning Park. Book your tickets here.