“Welcome Julius Caesar” we see posted on a side-of-stage whiteboard before La Boite’s world premiere contemporary reimagining of Shakespeare’s political thriller Julius Caesar fills the space. As the show starts, notices are added, a rack of costumes wheeled in and hand props put in their place. Soon, the actors being arriving for their first rehearsal. Chenoa Deemal, Giema Contini, Bryan Probets and Will Carseldine, who are all playing versions of themselves, saunter in, praising one another for their previous performances. They are immediately engaging and present an amusing foreshadow of what is to come.
While some scenes from Shakespeare’s tale of a self-absorbed politician and the men conspiring against him appear within the ensuing rehearsals, examination of the complicated, traditionally-masculine work occurs through what is going on around its fringes. This opens up access to the text to the youth audience to which it is particularly pitched. In fact, we never get to see any of the company’s in-season performance. When Bryan and Giema rehearse as the eponymous statesman and his traditionally submissive wife Calpurnia, tech week tensions heighten to a clash of creative approaches. This reveals much more than just differences in is their processes, leaving us to ponder if, perhaps, Caesar is not the only potential beast without a heart.
Like its source material, Caesar is about power structure, duty, honour and responsibility, all of which have relevance in a contemporary society, especially when applied to the idea of diversity and representation on stage. And when things fast forward to a post show-within-the-show discussion, we get the funniest scene of all. I speak of not just in its initial clichéd questions and answers, but rather its escalating chaos after exposé’ of outdated attitudes and the use of overly familiar language. In particular, the TikTok livestream of the collective discussion is hilarious in its every detail as it swells towards calls for Caesar to be slain.
References from the Shakespearean play are peppered throughout Caesar. Recent drama school graduate Will, who is playing Brutus, considers Bryan to be a North Star, ignorant of how Giema and Chenoa feel about his automatic assention to the lead role. And while monologues from the psychological drama feature within the work, it is one in which Chenoa decries the tone-deafness of prima dona Bryan that leaves the most lasting impression.
Caesar offers much to appreciate for audience members of all ages, thanks to the collective efforts of its talented cast, supported by slick sound (Anna Witaker) and video (Justin Harrison) design. More than a riff of Shakespeare’s play-within-a-play trope, this is one of the most meta shows you are likely to experience. Its five fierce non-binary and female-identifying playwrights (Claire Christian, Jean Tong, Megan Wilding, Merlynn Tong and Zoey Dawson) have crafted a clever and entertaining clap-back that is funny and fresh.
Under Sanja Simić’s direction, its five distinct acts feature strong independent voices. Still, they leave the work feeling more like a sum of its parts rather than a cohesive whole. Nevertheless, more than just illustrating the heartbeat to Shakespeare’s words, Caesar asks its audience to consider what these words do.
Caesar is showing at La Boite Theatre from until 7th August, 2021.
For more of Meredith Walker’s theatre reviews, check out Blue Curtains Brisbane.