Review: Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre

I intended to start writing my review of The Bridge Theatre’s thrilling, immersive production of Julius Caesar on the train home last night. Instead, I ended up texting pretty much everyone I know to tell them they should go and see it immediately. Having slept on that opinion, I stand by it 100%.

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

Nicholas Hytner’s production brings ancient Rome screaming into the 21st century with a politically relevant and heart-poundingly gripping take on Shakespeare’s play. While the adaptation steers clear of overt references to any specific regime, there are shades of a certain red baseball cap wearing president in David Calder’s portrayal of Caesar (with one particular gesture that simultaneously clarifies who he’s modelled on and seals our dislike towards him, just moments before his assassination). Perhaps in light of this it’s not surprising that two of the main conspirators against him are strong female figures – Michelle Fairley as Cassius and Adjoa Andoh as Casca – who convince Ben Whishaw’s nervous, endearingly geeky Brutus to join them, only for him to take over the entire plan, overrule all their ideas and mess everything up.

Julius Caesar is a story that works particularly well in an immersive format, because so much of the play focuses on the power of political rhetoric to sway the masses. Standing in the midst of the crowd, clutching a Caesar poster someone had just thrust into my hand while Brutus flyers rained down all around, it was easy to get caught up in the tidal wave of popular opinion as first Brutus and then Mark Antony – played with conviction and down to earth charisma by David Morrissey – took to the stage at Caesar’s funeral.

That said, it only works if the immersive aspects of the show are convincing, and on that front this production delivers to such an extent I actually felt a bit traumatised by the end. From the celebratory gig that’s already underway as we arrive, to the screams of discreetly positioned cast members at Caesar’s assassination, to the debris that falls from above as the theatre’s rocked by explosions and gunfire – the attention to detail is mind-blowing. True, it’s not the most comfortable two hours you’ll ever spend; prepare to be herded fairly roughly from one position to another, to be stepped on by fellow audience members, and possibly even to have an actor scream “Move!” in your face. But I’d still recommend getting a standing ticket if you can physically manage it (the play is two hours with no interval) if an authentic experience is what you’re after.

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

On the other hand, if you want a good view of Bunny Christie’s incredible set (and prefer to keep your toes untrampled), a seated ticket is probably the way to go; inevitably anyone watching from the ground won’t be able to see everything, whereas from above you’ll be better able to appreciate the versatility of both the space and the set. Consisting of multiple platforms that rise and fall to create a new stage area for each new scene, it’s like spending the evening in several different theatres all at once.

In a city that was already full of theatres, The Bridge – which only opened in October – has already more than proved its worth. This gripping production will thrill those who already know and love Shakespeare, but more importantly, it may just change the minds of those who don’t.

Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉

Interview: Bric à Brac, Just Lose It

Following the success of their first production, Ash, international ensemble Bric à Brac have begun developing their next project, Just Lose It, an immersive show about weight loss and body image. “Our audience is introduced to different members of our fictional weight loss programme, The Bin the Belly Weightless Corporation. By poking fun at our society’s obsession with body image we hope to shed light on the ridiculousness of this subject whilst instilling confidence in everyone that we are all lovely just the way we are!

“It’s a fairly young idea. We started talking about it half a year ago, and had a couple of workshops playing around with the theme. But the actual creation of the show is happening right now. We’re doing a research and development showing at The Space on 10th May, to learn and get feedback. If all goes to plan, we’ll continue developing after summer.”

Bric à Brac’s aim is to tackle difficult and relevant subject matter with clever, dynamic, and humorous storytelling. “Our collaborative process allows for a more diversified and unique take on these issues. We want our audiences to have fun, leaving them with questions and not necessarily all of them answered. If we can provoke laughter and meaningful discussion through our work then I’d say we’ve done a good job.”

The idea for the show came initially from director Anna Marshall’s own experience. “We’d been touring and working on Ash for nearly two years and as a group we were looking for our next challenge,” she explains. “Two years of Ash also meant two years out of Lecoq; I noticed that my body had changed from stopping the everyday exercise we were doing whilst training and I started becoming quite self conscious – I’d be nervous about going back to Yorkshire in case my family commented on whether or not I’d gained weight, and I realised that it was just stupid.

“After that I began thinking why I felt unhappy about it – I wasn’t clinically overweight or unhealthy, but I just didn’t feel like I looked great and I started noticing how magazines, adverts, Instagram etc were showing me images of how I wanted to look. Once I started looking for it I realised how mixed the messages I was being told were – ‘be healthy’, ‘be happy with yourself no matter what’, ‘do this three-day detox to be beach ready’ – and I thought this could be an incredibly rich topic to explore.”

Just Lose It is an immersive promenade experience, in which the audience is split into five teams, each led by a different cast member. “Bric à Brac company members’ individual talents in comedy and improvisation come into their own here, allowing each audience member to have a slightly different experience depending on who their leader is.

“The structure of the piece allows for a more engaging way of addressing the subject matter for the audience. In order to achieve this bold and immersive presentation, we’re using the R&D time at The Space to research further the insecurities of calorie-counters and the competition these pyramid structures of weight loss can create. The aim is to create the feel of a ‘night out’ whilst we delve into the grotesque greed of this weight loss group and their hunger to win big, by losing large.

“We believe the style we’ve chosen is the perfect way to present this subject, as it takes the form which is used commercially to market against a healthy body image through a Weight Watchers slimmers programme. This show is not intended to mock these groups, as slimming programmes encourage people to achieve their ideal weight through togetherness, and provide a great support structure to do so. The aim is to challenge the presentation of a negative body image that goes hand in hand with these slimming programmes.”

The company believe the show has something to say to everyone, regardless of age, gender, size or shape. “Weight loss, and more specifically body image, is something we all think about, whether we’re aware of it or not. Our society is crammed full of pressures on what you eat, how you exercise and what you wear for your shape. Popcorn instead of crisps, sold out boot camps and vertical stripes over horizontal. Adverts for health foods and gyms are purposely cross-generational, and often feature young adults to pensioners, proving that anyone can be fit. This show should investigate just how universal a topic body image is, hence how important it is for us to understand it better.

“We’re hoping audiences go away thinking ‘yeah, I’m happy with the way I am’. Or at least happy to discuss their body issues and find a better solution to feeling more comfortable in their own skin than resorting to programmes, crazy diet plans and hardcore fitness regimes because society ‘tells’ them to change the way they look. It’s about being healthy mentally and physically. That’s different for everyone.”

The members of Bric à Brac, who are from Britain, Jersey, America and Norway, founded the company on their graduation in 2015. “We all met and trained together at Jacques Lecoq in France. In a nutshell, Lecoq is about using movement to explore a huge range of theatrical styles, from clown and bouffon to tragedy and melodrama, whilst always placing an emphasis on a collaborative process. I guess there is quite a strong preconception that Lecoq ensembles solely produce ‘physical theatre’ – which is not completely untrue – but I also think there is so much more to it than that.

Just Lose It, an immersive, promenade show, might not seem at first sight to be in a distinctively Lecoq style, but it nonetheless gives us an amazing opportunity as a company to draw on our shared background. There are absurd characters aplenty, undertones of cabaret, and hopefully a healthy amount of silliness to keep our audience-cum-participants laughing along!”

Check out Bric à Brac’s Just Lose It on 10th May at The Space.