Julius Caesar Melbourne Fringe Festival 2016

Review by Keith Gow September 2016

“Hooray and up she rises, Hooray and up she rises” chant the working women of Rome to celebrate Caesar’s victory and her return to the capital. Soon, though, Caesar is warned to “Beware the Ides of March”. And the knives come out.

The tragedy of Julius Caesar as told by William Shakespeare is over 400 years old and yet this production is fresh and still brutal viewing. In a taught 80-minute edit, this production is piercing in its succinctness.

Hearing this text with the pronouns changed sometimes felt charged with meaning and sometimes, as in our current political climate, the most natural thing in the world. “Are you married or a spinster?” sounds strange to the ear but it slips past. “Did Caesar swoon?” seems more damning when talking about a woman; 400 years of fainting heroines in our collective theatrical memory.

A solid cast, the standouts are Amanda LaBonte’s Brutus, who is particularly layered and shaded, and Sophie Lampel’s Antony, who holds the audience captivated with her rendition of the “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” speech. Director Fleur Kilpatrick has a clear vision, denying us the blood we might expect, but delivering sharp dramatic blows. One after another.

Review by Graeme McCoubrie Melbourne Observer September 2016

We all know that most of Shakespeare’s plays are heavily weighted towards male actors and the gender balance falls well short giving little opportunity for females to act in any of his timeless works.  That all changed with Essential Theatre’s production of Julius Caesar at Space 338.

After sixteen years of touring their unique program of “Shakespeare in the Vines”, the all-female cast returned to the Melbourne Fringe Festival where they commenced their ventures in 1999.

Julius Caesar is not a play with gender issues or romantic ties, it is dramatic with one thing certain, “Caesar will die tonight”. The rawness of the events were supported by a large open bare space, at times sparsely lit and when necessary the backing of haunting music. With six cast there was opportunity to see their diversity of performance in dual roles under director Fleur Kilpatrick

While the sequence of events did not change it is the way the events were delivered that makes this production. After getting used to phrases such as ”my dear friend Brutus, she is so loyal” and “I have come to bury Caesar not to praise her” the work unfolded to a dramatic end.

Exceptionally strong were performances throughout by Amanda LaBonte as Brutus and Devon Lang Wilton as Cassius, particularly in their final scene of a bitter quarrel, their reconciliation and then death. Helen Hopkins as Caesar fell prey to four conspirators in a dramatic and very well staged stabbing death. The lengthy rhetoric given by Mark Antony played by Sophie Lampel almost stole the work as it was superbly delivered, with many mixed emotions that were draining.

Credit goes to Alex Aldrich as Casca and also for her Costume Design while Leah Filley as Lucius  like the rest of the cast who played other roles such as commoners, a soothsayer or a cobbler.

Essential Theatre’s female cast achieved what Shakespeare didn’t, I am sure he would have applauded.