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For those thinking that Blackpool is a cultural desert, which this website disproves, we do have the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) performing Julius Caesar at the Grand Theatre and very good they were too when I attended last night. Attendance was a little low, but enough for a lively house. Come on Blackpool people, this is high art on your doorstep.

This is a play that one feels they know without seeing it, but for me at least that was not the case. I had imagined that things would be pretty much done with after Caesar’s assassination (beware the Ides of March), but there was plenty of play left after possibly the most famous stage killing in history. Likewise the relationship between Brutus and Caesar is referenced so often it’s a surprise to find it’s Cassius stirring up what beomes a homicidal conspiracy.

The curtain rises and we find a blank black wall, part of a rotating cube. It transpires that behind this is a room that gradually fills with dead people as the play’s body count rises. Originally it is Brutus’s house. A black clad, largely silent chorus enters and others appear atop the wall prior to the house lights dimming. After some brief interplay between minor characters and the writhing of an apparently possessed seer, who foreshadows the Ides of March, enter Cassius and the action commences.

Cassius perceives that Caesar’s overweening ambition and new reputation as a god is leading Rome down the wrong path. The former knows that Caesar is no god, having nursed him during campaign illness; there was also a reference to Caesar’s possible epilepsy. Despite Caesar having refused a crown on three occasions, Cassius feels that he has done so increasingly reluctantly. The latter starts to gather what will become a kill squad around him, including the reluctant Brutus.

Game on! The problem is they all love Caesar, particularly Brutus. They can all argue that they’re removing a tyrant in the interests of freedom all they like, but that’s bound to get in the way.

From there control slips away from the conspirators, starting from Mark Antony taking against them “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him,” and forming an alliance with Octavian, which leads to doom for the cabal. Mark Antony’s rhetoric is confusing and is he sincere, one minute sarcastically referring to Brutus as an honourable man and next the most noble Roman? Brutus at least, seems to have believed that he was acting in the wider best interest, but as with Cassius, he should have perhaps thought things through a little more. Was a brutal public murder really the way to go? Caesar foreshadows his own death when he says that Cassius thinks too much and that such men are dangerous.

The play featured a signer on the stage throughout, which did not distract fom the action. A practice to be commended.

Cassius, Brutus and several other generally previously male roles were played by women and the cast was multi-cultural. Brutus was in a same sex relationship with her partner. If culture warriors want to whinge about this being ‘woke’, I don’t care, this worked for me. The pronouns did get a little confusing when conversations between women were occurring and were so referenced and then the original text would be brought in and the relevant characters would be men again. The parts were performed with absolute commitment and the characters came across credibly, which to me is what counts.

As ever with Shakespeare and me, the difficulty of keeping up with the complicated dialogue in 16th century English and delivered at speed was a bit of an issue. Despite this it’s always possible to get the gist of what’s happening, especially when the cast is as good as this. Once more I find myself asking, how can people learn all those lines and deliver them under pressure?

There are so many used phrases in this play and known lines ‘et tu Brute’. The one I had not realised was ‘it’s all Greek to me’. I had been aware that ‘trash’ is used in this play, sometimes thought to be an Americanism. ‘Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me’ is not used, because that’s from a Carry On film. Despite the tragedy and mounting body count, there is humour in the play, particularly some little gestures from the dead though reappearing Caesar.

The copious quantities of blood used in this production was black and seemed to come from nowhere at times. By the show’s end, quite a lot of the cast was smothered in it. Cicero’s possibly dry clean only suit was covered, even though he played no part in any violence. Laundry and cleaning must be a significant production cost for this one.

A fine show delvered in modern dress with verve and commitment. Congratulations to all involved. My other reservation was the periodic dance sequences, which didn’t seem to bring anything to the table. Also all good wishes to the Blackpool Community Chorus, whose presence added a lot to the atmosphere.

I wish I’d had time for a riffle thought the play before viewing it (I studied Romeo and Juliet for O-level), which would have made it easier to follow, but at the end of the day it was quite easy to tell what was going on. Closing night is 20th May 2023, catch it if you can. Final curtain gave me a handy six minutes to get to the service 6 bus stop, so that worked out well too.

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    I have worked in the housing and transport professions for several local authorities, specialising in policy, strategy preparation and bid writing. Having always had an interest in film, the visual arts in general, theatre, music and lterature, I thought it would be good to combine the writing experience with these interests to contribute to altBlackpool. In addition to writing, my hobbies include watercolour and pastel painting, photography, woodwork, cycling and vegetable gardening.

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