JOYCE MCMILLAN on JULIUS CAESAR at the Botanic Gardens, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 17.7.13.
5 stars *****
IT’S SHORT, IT’S SPARE, it’s presented by just four actors in simple business suits, with a minimum of staging. Yet this 100-minute version of Julius Caesar for the Bard In The Botanics season, staged in the elegant indoor space of the Kibble Palace, is an astonishingly powerful account of this great play, in which the sharp lines of the drama emerge unscathed from director Jennifer Dick’s radical adaptation, and are delivered to the audience with a thrilling, visceral force.
The audience sit on four rows of chairs, two on either side of a simple transverse space; and from the first moment of the drama – with Nicole Cooper’s furious Cassius, or Cassia, chiding the foolish plebeians for their idolatry of Caesar – the verse is spoken with a terrific, dynamic political understanding that makes the words rage and sing, as they drive us through the time-honoured story of a political murder committed for the best of motives, but still too bloody and violent an act not to unleash mayhem and revenge. Paul Cunningham is a tense, thoughtful Brutus, Tim Barrow a stately but visibly vulnerable Caesar; and Kirk Bage is an unforgettable Mark Antony, a vain but gifted man raised to terrific powers of rhetoric by his fury over Caesar’s death.
Just occasionally, the inevitable doubling and trebling of minor roles, among such tiny cast, becomes a shade awkward or confusing. In its greatest moments, though, this production achieves a spine-tingling pitch of intensity, horror and exhilaration. The current artistic director Gordon Barr has spent more than half a decade, now, building up a Bard In The Botanics ensemble with a record in performing Shakespeare that no other Scottish company can match; and the sheer focus and quality of this outstanding production is a tribute to the immense skill and understanding they have achieved, through good summers and bad, since the season first began in 2001.