Cosmic Arts’ production of Caesar is a modern day interpretation of Shakespeare’s script, set in the US Senate – a reimagining I was particularly excited to see. The preset featured US flags and a jazz soundtrack, signalling full commitment to the theme and provoking thoughts about political parallels before the play had even begun.
The set was sparse, but this only meant the excellent acting was foregrounded and became the focus of the production. Supporting this, the smart, official-looking costumes perfectly evoked the setting, and the variety of music used (from Holst’s The Planets suite to jazz and atmospheric music involving bells) strengthened the idea of universality and cross-temporal relevance latent in the production.
Cosmic Arts did not alter Shakespeare’s script very much, maintaining its references to Rome. This created an interesting suspended reality between ancient Italy and the USA, meaning the political tensions within the play could be explored in a way pertinent to both settings, reflecting more strongly on our current situation. Director Ben Ashton cast the play gender blind, and the choice of a female Caesar challenged stereotypes in a very pleasing way while bringing the script more firmly into the modern world. Jennifer Hurd’s performance successfully explores issues of power and femininity simultaneously. The hairstyle chosen, involving braids tied round the head, once again reminded us of the play’s original setting by giving a feeling of antiquity.
Props were used effectively, for instance an open umbrella at the beginning of a scene related to a soliloquy about the weather and storms, and a drumroll reminiscent of thunder was used. Caesar’s death heralded red lighting and a change from order to disorder, with the sound and lighting creating a far harsher environment in contrast to the smart, official feel of the preset and earlier scenes.
All in all, this production is a successful reimagining, effectively blending ancient and modern to explore how ancient issues chime in current politics.