The first week of July brings the performance of in situ:’s summer production, Julius Caesar Project. In this article, director Richard Spaul explains the motivation, the aim and the process underpinning the work.
Richard, let’s start with the title – Julius Caesar Project. What’s this telling us about the new production?
The title means that rather than delivering a straight performance of Shakespeare’s work, we’re exploring the play – and that the performance is the result of our explorations. We’ve done several such ‘projects’ in the past.
So the original text will be present but not in its entirety. Perhaps the sequence will change. There may be repetitions. There may be other extracts interwoven with the core text – eye-witness accounts, source material, responses from the performers’ personal experience. We’re aiming for a complex of images, words, movements and discourses circling round the original.
This means that Julius Caesar Project is not simply a rewrite nor a modernisation, but hopefully something much more diverse and thought-provoking. We’re taking a long walk through the world of the play, and inviting the audience to join us.
Why Julius Caesar?
Why did you choose Julius Caesar? In particular, how is a centuries-old play, dealing with events more than two millennia ago, relevant and interesting to us now?
The narratives and issues of the original play are alarmingly similar to modern-day events – though in many ways, one wishes they weren’t.
Julius Caesar shows us a very imperfect, very partial, very fragile democracy that comes under threat from a militarist, charismatic leader. Then, an assassination which is intended by some to protect democratic institutions actually hastens their end, and Rome is plunged into a chaos of dictatorships, civil war and death squads.
One would be very unobservant not to see many worrying parallels with today’s world – so the play is relevant, alarmingly relevant. And Shakespeare is one of the most powerful of all political dramatists, so he digs all that stuff out.
Working with the text
How have you transformed the original text into the living work we’ll see in the Leper Chapel?
Our production doesn’t include the entire Shakespeare text – instead, we’ve gone for key scenes and speeches.
Earlier in the year, we workshopped these extracts pretty hard, exploring many performing techniques and approaches such as Voice and Character Creation, then developing the structure and sequence of the piece, and finally creating powerful staging and images.
As we approach performance, we’ve started working in the Leper Chapel. Presenting a production in a particular site is vital to in situ:’s work, so now we’re focussing on how to develop the play within that very atmospheric and remarkable space.
Performing Julius Caesar
Very often with in situ:’s productions, actors don’t take individual ‘parts’. So we resumably shouldn’t expect one performer to be playing Caesar, another Brutus, and so on. Why do you prefer this approach?
in situ: works as an ensemble of performers and we have a rather egalitarian approach – so to divide the cast into minor roles and major roles would be most inappropriate.
Instead, we think about the text as something to be distributed in some way amongst all the voices we’ve got, all of whom have their own talents. So any individual might play many roles and any role might be played by many individuals.
Often the interesting thing isn’t so much who says what but the power of the language. For example, it can sometimes be very interesting to have multiple speaking voices acting as a chorus – this can often hugely heighten the impact of the words.
What are you hoping that the audience will enjoy and gain from Julius Caesar Project?
The audience will see and hear a remarkable play explored, dissected and performed.
As in all in situ:’s performances, the energy and commitment of the actors is absolute.
As a result, the atmosphere in the extraordinary Leper Chapel – with all the actors going at 100 per cent – will be very intense and memorable. The audience will hear the human voice working in strong and diverse ways as the amazing language of the play is explored, and this impact is enhanced by powerful choreographies and images.
There’s so much to enjoy, and Julius Caesar Project will particularly appeal to people seeking artistic experiences that are of greater intensity and intimacy than is usually available.