Wow. I am absolutely awestruck by the unflinching intensity of the Spur-of-the-Moment Shakespeare Collective’s brilliant adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar the Julius Caesar Project now playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival.
The production, directed by Taryn Jorgenson, sets Shakespeare’s tragedy in a women’s prison in the modern day (à la Orange is the New Black), but retains his language – except for in a few ad-libbed places. And these ad-libs don’t detract from the performance at all; the performances by the entire cast are so present and so natural that these modern interjections fit perfectly with the way they deliver their dialogue.
I have never been so blown away by a Shakespearean tragedy before and that’s saying a lot because I’m a Shakespearean scholar. For the sake of time, the adaptation trims away the secondary plot of the play, leaving a fast-paced utterly enrapturing story of assassination and revenge. And a streamlined adaptation injected with such exciting urgency is exactly how I like seeing Shakespeare’s tragedies performed.
Setting the show in a women’s prison is another stroke of brilliance. Not only does it cash in on the current pop-culture obsession with Orange is the New Black, but it enriches the relationships between the characters. The complicated love/jealousy/resentment relationships between Caesar and Brutus and Brutus and Cassius gain so much complexity from being the relationships between inmates in a small community.
Emma Burns’ Octavius Caesar delivers one of the most chilling performances I’ve ever seen when she cold-heartedly serves her revenge in the play’s final scenes. Eva Barrie (Brutus) and Erin Eldersha (Marc Antony) both give stirring speeches at Julius Caesar’s funeral and their extraordinary oratory skills make it easy to see how the Romans could be swayed to follow either of them.
The way that Julius Caesar’s funeral is staged is also remarkable. Having the Roman citizens rush to sit in the audience and bouncing their responses to the two speeches around the theatre is so engaging, since it makes the Julius Caesar Project’s audience part of Brutus and Antony’s audience of Romans.
I found the other scenes that used similar sorts of staging, like the frantic whispering of “beware the Ides of March” around Caesar that signify his dream that he is going to be murdered and the dream that Brutus has before the final battle where he sees Caesar’s death again, to be such incredibly effective uses of voice and staging.
But it’s not just the heightened intensity that makes this production so great. The tender romances between Decius (Grace Gordon) and Julius Caesar (Emma Burns) and Portia (Jordi O’Dael) and Brutus (Eva Barrie) give the play a sincere heart and much needed humour.
I wish I could spend another thousand words singing the praises of this production, I’m sure my friends will hear even more than that in the next few days. Every member of this play’s cast and crew involved deserves my utmost praise. If this play isn’t sold out for the rest of its run, I will be sorely, sorely disappointed.
July 03 at 08:15 PM
July 04 at 03:00 PM
July 06 at 10:00 PM
July 09 at 12:00 PM
July 10 at 07:30 PM
July 11 at 12:00 PM
July 13 at 05:15 PM
Tickets for all mainstage productions are $10 at the door, cash only. Advance tickets are $12, and can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), or from the festival box office at the Fringe Club. (Rear of Honest Ed’s, 581 Bloor St. West). Money-saving value packs are also available if you are going to at least five shows; see website for details.
LATECOMERS ARE NEVER ADMITTED TO FRINGE SHOWS. To avoid disappointment, be sure to arrive a few minutes before curtain.
Picture courtesy of the production.