Review & ramblings: Bell Shakespeare's Julius Caesar


This weekend the Bell Shakespeare Company brought Julius Caesar - stab-happy political thriller and cautionary tale about letting yourself get talked into things - to Rockhampton's Pilbeam theatre.

Let's start with that beautiful, dark, spare set: a grungy industrial advertising billboard dominated the space, dressed as the story demanded in bunting, blood, or Jules' own incongruously pastoral campaign photo.

As long as humans continue to human, this story of one leader offing another Because Reasons only for it to all come down in a screaming heap will remain relevant.  As such this production isn't anchored to a specific time or place, tempting as it may have been to tie it to Trump, or Brexit, or The Lodge's conversion to an Airbnb.  Rather, it sits on a plane of eternal now, where original language wears modern clothing, where daggers lie on junkyard 70s chairs and ghosts wield microphones.

Stand-out performance for me was Ghenoa Gela as Casca and later Messala.  Gela (originally from Rockhampton!) brought a beautiful physicality to her performance, unsurprising given she has a background in dance and choreography, and a warm, cheeky humour to the storytelling and the funny bits.  

So, who's the hero and who's the villain?  

On the whole, I don't think we have enough evidence for a definitive answer.  Was Julius Caesar a tyrant who had it coming or a good leader brought down by jealousy?  His optics are good, but they'd want to be - he has a 2IC who can turn a bloodthirsty mob 180 with a single speech and a PR team ready to photoshop him into a Watchtower depiction of Chill Jesus In Earthly Paradise for his OOH marketing campaign.

One character I left with more empathy for was Brutus.  I've previously considered him a Cassius-level creep just waiting for an opportunity to show it, but in this production he felt more human, more conflicted about the plot, and far more genuinely troubled by the deaths around him.

Take home message: if you're in a region still to be visited by Julius Caesar (Mackay, Cairns, Alice Springs, Darwin, Dubbo, Bathurst, Griffith, Wagga Wagga, Penrith, Gosford, Canberra, finishing with a run at the Sydney Opera House) do get along if you can.

And don't let anyone - be it a shady Roman senator, an Instafluencer or a Facebook meme farm - tell you what to think or do.  It has a way of coming back to bite you.