On the Rocks Interview: Julius Caesar

Why do you think Shakespeare still attracts attention? Benji (Director): Shakespeare as a dramatist has not been surpassed. There are no better writers, and, done well, a play by Shakespeare […]

Why do you think Shakespeare still attracts attention?

Benji (Director): Shakespeare as a dramatist has not been surpassed. There are no better writers, and, done well, a play by Shakespeare is the best experience the theatre can offer. He had a Herculean ability to empathise with the characters he created, which is why actors love playing them – they are very human, and the difficulties and experiences they endure are still relevant. What makes Shakespeare so performable (and repeatable) is that he does not try and provide political answers to the political questions he explores. He is not telling the audience what to think, he is writing about the human cost of politics.

Also, habit.

Julius Caesar is a very famous play. Do you think that increases the pressure on you to do a good job?

Benji: I wouldn’t say that. Directing a famous play is an invitation to find new ways of approaching and interpreting characters and scenes.

We see a lot of Shakespeare in St Andrews: this semester’s Troilus and Cressida, last year’s Macbeth, and The Tempest, which we’re sending to the Fringe. What will make Julius Caesar stand apart from the others?

Benji: As a group of actors and a director, we have tried to focus on establishing very real relationships between the characters, on doing justice vocally to Shakespeare’s language, and, most importantly, on telling the story engagingly and clearly. As a director, I like to give a lot of attention to the visual element of theatre, and on engaging the audience on both an intellectual and emotional level. For this reason we have not attempted to present the play naturalistically, since that would reduce the capacity of the play to exist as metaphor. Shakespeare is writing about England in 1599, as well as Rome in the last century BC, but we’re putting the play on now, about now. So we are using mime, extensive doubling (tripling, quadrupling) of parts, choral effects, stylised movements and so on, both because I find it creates more visually engaging theatre, and because it highlights the allegorical and universal aspects of the play.

You’re going up during On the Rocks. This means you’re competing with loads of other plays to attract an audience. Why should people come and see Julius Caesar over other shows?

Benji: Ours is by Shakespeare.

Adryon (Producer): Coming to see the play will be a fantastic way to see something classical (yet fresh and relevant) that has been tried by the test of time – 414 years of time in fact. 

Shakespeare had a tendency to write rather long plays. Are you performing the full thing, or will it be cut down?

Benji: Shakespeare did write bloody long plays, but back then people didn’t have much else to do and could sit still for longer. We will certainly not be performing the full thing. It’s fairly heavily cut.

Baxter Gaston (Mark Antony), you have to deliver one of the most famous speeches of all time, one that’s been performed by countless acting greats over the years. How have you been tackling it?

Baxter:  I think understanding the context of Antony and the speech both historically and within the confines of the play itself was critical for me when working on my delivery. The complexity of my character, his motives, emotions, relationships, and his interaction with the crowd can be very difficult to interpret and relay in a performance, and Benji and Adryon, as well as the rest of the cast, have been instrumental in how I understand and portray Antony during the speech. It also didn’t hurt that I spent a week in Rome over the Easter break.

Julius Caesar goes up in Venue 2 at 7.30pm on Monday 8th and Tuesday 9th of April for just £4.