Wednesday, February 23, 2011

'Julius Caesar' at La Boite

If you're looking for an easy target, kill Portia since she dies off-stage unremarkably anyway.
I saw 'Julius Caesar' tonight, as presented and modernised by La Boite Theatre Company. It wasn't perfect, or especially memorable, but it was definitely great entertainment.

First off, let me say that I'm not at all familiar with the play by Shakespeare, however I'm someone who knows plenty about the events surrounding Caesar's rise to prominence and eventual assassination. I'd seen the play pimped all around Brisbane and saturating the halls of Kelvin Grove, so I figured I'd better go along to see it. The interpretation wasn't exactly what I was expecting, seeing as it was presented with skinny jeans and plenty of skin. On the topic of skin, holy shit, when did it become a prerequisite that you need to be ultra-attractive to be an actor? The cast are sexxxyyyyy.

The play starts off with this club/rave styled scene which was the highlight of the evening - the cast make their appearance, baring their skin and doing all kinds of crazy ass shit, like licking each other or drinking/snorting huge amounts of liquor in their underwear. This practically summaries how La Boite has tried to transform their interpretation by creating chaos which can be viewed differently, by any angle. The song is catchy, I sat there really enjoying it; there was one repetitive line that kept on popping up, and I wanted to make it my Facebook status but I can't remember what it was. That's the main problem with the production - most of it is glamorous and glitzy, but it's not particularly memorable.

The cast are attractive, and no-one is terrible. Well, they're all good, but some far better than others. The most talented man, Steve Toulmin, acts out a bunch of ridiculous scenarios and roles. In addition to being the composer, music and sound designer, he also plays the crack-head Soothsayer, Lucius, a priest, and Cimber the Poet (who really serves no purpose to the plot at all - Shakespeare, what are you doing - and the only reason he's in the show is to be killed on top of a mat so the ensemble can remove the rug and reveal a clever new scenario). Other star members are Thomas Larkin, who plays the passionate and devoted Marc Antony, and Emily Tomlins. Tomlins gets a special mention from me because I had no idea that she played two characters - she plays Caesar's wife, but she also plays a bunch of stupid superfulous characters. I was actually sitting and wondering to myself "Where did that bitch with the hipster glasses go?" when only in the last 5 minutes I realised it was the same actor. Naturally, Hugh Parker, who plays the ill fated dictator, is quite good in the titular role, but is required to do a bunch of bizarre shit (that I'll tackle later). Steven Rooke as Brutus is equally excellent, and was the only character where I actually caught EVERY word that he said. Paul Bishop is good too, but if he's not facing you, just look up and admire how the lighting set up is done so well - he speaks too fast and there is not enough projection for him to be heard. Whatevs.

Which brings me to the point of criticism with the rest of the cast. Or, rest of the lack of cast. 5 of the cast members have to adopt a bunch of different roles in the production, and you never know who is who on stage unless you're familiar with the play!!! Ross Balbuziente plays Casca well, but then, suddenly, in the next scene he is an anonymous vigilante, then in the next he is a citizen of Rome. Then Antony says something like "stu, Octavius". WHAT? Besides the lousy costume change, I had NO CLUE that he had changed characters. The mannerisms, the timbre and control of his voice, and how he moves does not indicate he's had a character change! Likewise, his colleague Anna McGahan was totally forgettable in all her roles with the exception of Portia. Her Portia is really sexy, firey, and when she argues with Brutus she commands the stage. However, Portia dies offstage (tragically) and McGahan is stuck in the same stupid, ambiguous roles that Balbuziente, Toulmin, and even my dear Tomlins are stuck doing. This could have been rectified with a larger cast, or the directors requiring a bigger differentiation between the characters! The supporting cast were good, but here they're straining to shine.

99% of the costumes end up looking like this
The actors have to do a bunch of bullshit stuff which is borderline hilarious or awkward. In one scene, Cassus is blubbering about something, and Caesar's ghost pops up and starts singing 'Happy Birthday...'! ZOMG! I was GAGGING. It was hilariously inappropriate - the cheese of that should be kept far away from us, and reserved for the Friday night low budget horror movies. Another scene prompts Casca (although, not really Casca, or Octavian - let's call them 'Happy Vigilante') to break out into some obscene rap to garner laughs from children in highschool, but thankfully it's only for a few awkward seconds. It's worse than the rapping in 'A Tale' from the La Nouba CD. Caesar popping up and stabbing people was really awkward too - especially when he ran off and came back on with a hoody and killed Cassus! I giggled like a school girl (laughing at Casca's rapping) when Caesar dramatically pulled his HOODIE OFF and stabbed him. Tee hee. Stupid. Toulmin also has to sing some awkward guitar song, which is nice, but it's very jarring and disjointed since no-one is seriously singing throughout until this bit...I assumed it was comical so I laughed, but it went on and on and it didn't do much. He finally falls asleep, and (omfg, hats off to this guy) he has to sit in the same position for about 20 minutes. I thought it was a clumsy mistake by the director, but in the end it serves a purpose. But, shit man, it's gotta be tough sitting there for that long, especially seeing his crunched up face all that time!

The costumes (which very very minimal - in content, and later in depth. I assume that the white was trying to draw parallels with purity, and Brutus being the only one without shoes represents...something else...) and set overall are very blah, but the lighting is interesting, and in some cases quite evocative and very simulating. Jason Glenwright pulls of similar effects as produced in 'The Tempest' (Zen Zen Zo:2009), and the moments such as the fighting, dream sequencing, and anything with rain works especially well. There was one scene where I looked up, and I just couldn't believe that the Roundhouse was capable of producing such lovely effects! Paired with the lighting it's mostly a winning combo, however I'm not sure if the fact I can't hear the actors occasionally is the fault of them not projection, or how unnecessarily loud it is in certain places. I'm inclined to think the latter, but it does depend which character is speaking. Overall, great design - the decay reverb effects used in the second act to address the audience by Antony and Brutus is superbly done - I felt as though I was actually in a real mob crowd. The score is an original too (as far as I know), and it certainly helped with immersion into the intensity and tension in the scenes that it often tired to invoke. Nice job, team.

So it may look like I've complained about a ton of stuff. I have, but if you look over it you'll notice it's just me making a big deal over small details. It's a cracking production! When they took their bows at the end, honestly all I could do was smile since I genuinely enjoyed it. There are some spectacular moments in the piece - when Larkin delivers his speech at the beginning of Act 2 to rouse the citizens to kill the conspirators was simply astounding, the death of Caesar is sudden, powerfully tragic, Rookie's portrayal of Brutus' transcendence from public adoration to his death, the spine tingling malice/revenge of Parker's Caesar's final words, and the opening - plus anything Toulmin does on stage - is totally worth it. Heck, this is La Boite - you're paying very little for great entertainment which re imagines the text. Even if I did want to jump up and scream the vocal cue from when Sweeney Todd kills the Old Beggar Woman (the one where he goes "The judge, I have no time!" *slits throat* "DUN, DUN, DUN DUN" <- in the tune of 'Alms!, Alms!).

Caesar's final statement is breathtakingly engaging.
So I have my complaints, but overall I totally recommend the show if you get the chance to catch it. It's better than Zen Zen Zo's, and it's like over 9000 times better than that painful bullet that was QTC's 'King Lear' last year. Sure, while I'm sitting here I can only remember small fragments of the awesome moments, and I'd never pen it down to be life changing or one of my favourite pieces, but that's not a reason not to see it.

Tickets for Julius Caesar range from $39-$48, and is showing until March 20. Book by visiting La Boite's website or by calling (07) 3007 8600. Photos on this page by Al Caeiro for promotional performances.


  1. Great review, but the idea of making a musical out of Julius Caesar strikes me as being as hilariously inappropriate as Elephant! The Musical, from the movie The Tall Guy:

  2. LMAO at the Elephant! musical. =D

    It wasn't really a musical, moreso they were just trying to fuse a bunch of different styles together. In total there were (my brain is saying) 3 songs? One of which may have been that 6 second rap thing. *shudder*