Oxford's oldest student newspaper

Independent since 1920

Julius Caesar at the TS Eliot Review: ‘Mature and Intelligent’

Arriving at the TS Eliot theatre to be greeted by a small (intimate?) venue, I was fascinated to see how the Merton Floats, in collaboration with the Univ Players, would deliver on their promise of a ‘film noir’ take on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. We were warned before the sold-out Friday showing that a cast member had been taken ill and other members would be ‘filling in’- but as the cliché goes, the show must go on, and soon enough the lights dimmed, and the play began. 

From start to finish, it was a show filled with excellent performances from leading cast members. Take, for example, Cassius (Lucas Haskins). He was depicted perfectly as the brooding plotter, disillusioned by Caesar. Particularly brilliant was the visible rage behind his eyes in the scene where he is mocked by Caesar. Both his and Brutus’ (Ethan Bareham) drawn out speeches to each other were also excellent, and we felt a real connection build between the two as the play went on. Brutus himself was also very well played, with the internal turmoil seen through the body language exhibited during scenes like that of the murder of Caesar, in which he appeared to be in a state of agony. 

At the right moments, it was also a play which didn’t take itself too seriously. Our Julius Caesar (Myfanwy Taylor-Bean) was especially good at knowing which moments to bring lavish extravagance to and generate laughter from the crowd as a result. Her hubris was visible, and her charisma convincing. As Caesar should be, she was the centre of attention in every scene she was a part of. Other cast members were also incredibly good at making the most of the funny parts of the script- take the comic relief of the murder of Cinna the poet; a silly scene, and suitably silly in its delivery in this performance. 

By far and away though my favourite moment of the evening has to go to Mark Antony (Thomas Allen). His Soliloquy following the death of Julius Caesar just before the interval was filled with the passionate rage that such a speech wouldn’t be right without. Indeed, from his first appearance in the play, Antony delivered an incredibly mature performance, exhibiting the manipulation of Brutus and Cassius with his changes in demeanour perfectly. His speeches were convincing even to an audience member, and he had us all in stitches with the way he worked the crowd up at Caesar’s funeral. 

One must also give credit to the crew for the very intelligent use of the space in the theatre. Though I was concerned upon entry about the small venue’s ability to do justice to the grand and extravagant speeches that this play is laced with, its intimate setting actually did much to enhance the experience. Being so close to the actors allows the audience to pick up on every detail of the cast’s body language, an aspect of their performance that many members had perfected. The compact setting also worked in the cast’s favour in scenes like the Caesar’s funeral, in which the cast surrounding the audience to heckle the characters during their speeches made us feel at one with the crowd. The hilarious fickleness of the Roman citizens through the switching tones of the heckles was a hysterical touch (made particularly funny by whichever cast member was repeatedly shouting ‘bastard’ at any mention of Brutus). 

The only major aspect of the play which I felt more could have been made of was the ‘film noir’ theme. The opening scenes which utilised the piano and the warning to Caesar of the ‘Ides of March’ taking place over the phone were great uses of this, but it felt as though beyond the costuming the theme was much forgotten after that, other than the odd gun being waved around here and there. Of course, the scope of what can be done with Shakespeare is incredibly limited, especially given the size of the set, but it might have been nice to see the periodic nature of the interpretation drawn out slightly more. 

Nevertheless, these minor points did not detract from a performance that was truly admirable. I was stunned by the maturity of all of the lead actors- especially given challenging circumstances out of their hands on the night. It is a difficult play, made even more challenging by the constraints on the size of both the cast and the venue. However, they did a very impressive job, and I look forward to seeing what all those involved take on next.

Check out our other content

Most Popular Articles