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.