Isabelle Hodgson

Julius Caesar


Debating Hall, Teviot Row House, Edinburgh

It’s a fascinating concept – Shakespeare’s classic play reimagined as a gangster epic.

Imagine those stirring soliloquies as delivered by a young Robert De Niro or Al Pacino – the senate represented by mob mosses and wise guys, bustling around the tables of a crowded nightclub while a live band blasts out spirited jazz. That’s what we have here and, fortuitously, the baroque setting of the Teviot’s debating hall proves to be the ideal location. EUSOG have never lacked ambition and this production, directed by Devki Panchmatia, may be their most confident offering yet. There’s a powerful buzz tonight and extra seats have to be added at the last minute to accommodate an enthusiastic audience.

In this version, Francesco Davi plays the titular role as a swaggering Don, appearing to general acclaim while a fawning Mark Antony (Julia Lisa) hangs on his every word and wastes no opportunity to ingratiate himself. But Cassius (Tom Wells) is growing tired of obeying the whims of a man he perceives as a ruthless dictator. He enlists Caesar’s old friend, Brutus (Haig Lucas), as his co-conspirator. It isn’t long before they have enlisted the services of others with similar intentions and a fateful date is set: the Ides of March, where Caesar will meet with bloody retribution..,.

I’ve always felt that the play is oddly weighted, the first half culminating in one of the bard’s finest scenes (and, as performed by Julia Lisa, it’s certainly the high point of this production). The final third feels more ramshackle, condensing years of civil war into a few brief skirmishes – and there’s also the impression that some of the longer interactions could benefit from some judicious editing. I know, I know. A bit late to bring it up now!

Unfortunately, the play starts later than the advertised time and the interval stretches on for so long that the hard-earned momentum evaporates and the cast have to work really hard to recapture it. It must also be said that the decision to stick rigidly to those wise-guy accents means that it’s not always an easy matter to follow every character’s dialogue. Those audience members who know the speeches by heart will have no issue with that, but it’s a while since I last studied the play and, occasionally, I find myself struggling.

Still, there’s much here to admire. Victoria White’s costume design is impeccable and Luca Stier’s set convincingly evokes the atmosphere of a nightclub. Isabelle Hodgson offers up a sneering, duplicitous Casca, while Tom Cresswell manages to shine both as Cicero and in his brief appearance as Cinna the poet.

The strobe-lit fight scenes are effectively done, while Panchmatia manages to keep a large cast moving around the crowded stage with great efficiency. And of course, it’s always heartening to witness a young company showing total commitment to a challenging project. Here, EUSOG deliver a Julius Caesar like no other.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

A Midsummer Night’s Dream


Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh

EUSC’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a real treat. I’m feeling a bit tired and grumpy before we set off for the theatre – a culmination of late nights and hayfever – but this sprightly production soon puts a spring in my step and, by the time I leave, I’m all smiles.

There’s something endearing about the audiences for these student productions: they’re always so vocal in their enthusiasm. It really helps to cement the whole ‘shared experience’ feeling of live performance, and debunks the idea that theatre only appeals to the middle-class and middle-aged. Their liveliness feeds the atmosphere, which is almost as charged off-stage as on. I love it.

Director Sara Cemin deftly braids the disparate strands of Shakespeare’s play. This is a vivacious, playful production, subtly updated with occasional asides (I mean, I don’t think “Fuck’s sake!” appears in the First Folio), which illuminate the jokes, sending laughter rippling through the auditorium.

The fever dream chaos is nicely realised: the four passionate youths, lost in the woods; the bumbling Mechanicals, desperately sincere in their desire to create something worthwhile; the mischievous faeries, unable to resist the impulse to play tricks. It’s a perfect storm.

The Mechanicals are the standouts. Some of this is down to Billy Bard himself, of course: there’s such a clever balance of scorn and tenderness in his rendering of them. But Cemin deserves credit for drawing this out, for resisting the urge to make them pantomime-ish figures, affording them instead the dignity of working people, striving to make something good (while still gently poking fun). Max Prentice (last seen by B&B in EUTC’s Education, Education, Education in 2018) is perfectly cast as Bottom: he’s clearly a natural comedian, and is instantly engaging. He’s definitely one to watch. But don’t underestimate those in the smaller roles either; this strand highlights the power of ensemble performance.

I do have a couple of minor gripes. First: the dry ice machine. “Fuck’s sake,” as Helena would say. It works well to set the scene when the faeries first appear, but – where cough-inducing smoke is concerned – less is more. Second (and this might just be me): the long interval. I know people need time to go to the loo and buy a drink, but anything longer than fifteen minutes disrupts the momentum, and all the tension that’s been so carefully built in the first act just starts to dissipate. Neither of these is a deal-breaker though.

I love Amelia Chinnock Schuman’s choreography, particularly in the fight scene, which is impressively visceral. The four lovers (Lucy Melrose, Archie Barrington, Isabelle Hodgson and Will Nye) approach this tussle with evident gusto, and the fear of injury seems very real (not least because of the rucked-up rug I keep thinking someone’s going to trip over. Yes, I am a laugh). The music is a satisfying addition too. It’s all original (by Joe Pratt and Mark Sandford), and I applaud the decision to have live musicians on stage. The songs are well-integrated into the production: enhancing rather than intrusive.

No review of AMND is complete without reference to Puck, and Priya Basra seems made for the role. She imbues the goblin with the necessary likability, so that we can witness his careless cruelty without abhorring him. She has eye-rolling down to a fine art.

All in all, then, this is an absolute delight. There’s only one night left. Buy a ticket – quickly!

4.3 stars

Susan Singfield