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Theatre Review: All-Female Julius Caesar

2013 January 7

The other week I went to see the all-female cast production of Julius Caesar at London’s Donmar Warehouse.

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd, this is a gritty, bold production set in a women’s prison – and performed in a very small, intimate theatre space. This is almost punk rock Shakespeare, and occasionally it has some punk rock in it. If the Pussy Riot reference poster doesn’t clue you in already: this is a production with guts.

Poster for Julius Caesar - the knitted balaclavas are an obvious Pussy Riot reference

Julius Caesar isn’t a play I’ve studied in much depth, and I know plenty of other reviewers will do a better academic job, so I’m going to focus on what I liked about it:

  1. More parts to female actors! Hooray! Also, the production necessitates a certain degree of queer/genderqueer acceptance, as both Brutus and Caesar’s wives play a significant part in the story. Get on board and get on with the plot.
  2. The initial prison set-up is ingenious, and really adds a few layers for the first half – Caesar is a much-loved but bullying top dog in the setting. And one of the first things Frances Barber’s Caesar does when she comes on stage is smooch Mark Anthony (Cush Jumbo). Whoa! That makes… a lot of sense, actually, and adds a brilliant ambiguity to the characters’ different declarations of love for each other.
  3. Did I mention punk rock? There’s a bit of live music with a drumkit on wheels used to brilliant effect.
  4. The soothsayer is presented as the clearly-slightly-unhinged inmate who is usually seen carrying a doll and with her hair always in bunches. Adult-as-child is really unnerving and in this production, it adds a Cassandra-esque layer.
  5. I admit it: at times I was perving. Holy hell, Cassius (Jenny Jules)’s abs are amazing.

The cast in full flow in their prison setting

One problem for me was that as the action scaled up after Caesar’s assassination, I wasn’t sure what to do with the prison setting. Part of my brain was still trying to work out what significance the setting still had – for best enjoyment you just need to leave that behind and focus on with the plot, but my brain couldn’t quite do it.

The setting and the tale make an interesting mix, but they don’t fit perfectly throughout. Brick it ain’t.

Also, there was an interesting dissonance between the ‘honour’ described (OK, makes sense) and the ‘love of Rome’ which motivated Brutus and Cassius (but why do you love this place? It’s… prison.)

But if the Torygraph is spitting bullets (twice) over the casting, you know you’re doing something right:

There is a certain poetic justice that Lloyd’s effort should find itself in direct competition with the classy, respectful and hugely entertaining all-male versions of Twelfth Night and Richard III, which are running in rep at the Apollo. These productions would undoubtedly have met with Shakespeare’s approval.

– Tim Walker, Telegraph 14/12/12


Dude, if you feel that threatened by affirmative action: there is everywhere else that you could go.

All in all this production is tough, gutsy and giving its all to sort out the massive under-representation of women in theatre.

And the modern, unpretentious setting gives you a huge amount to think about – above and beyond the plot of an already dense play. It’s on until the 9th of February.

One Response leave one →
  1. January 14, 2013

    I just checked on the Donmar Warehouse website. It looks as though the play has sold out for the remainder of its run. I won’t get to see it, but (on the plus side) is looks as though it’s been a commercial success.

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