George Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra is a war of political ideas. Is it intelligent or ruthless to kill your enemies when you could grant clemency? What makes a good leader? What value has art and literature in times of war?
The Independent Theatre’s production is performed traditionally, from the script through to the set. The acting is of high quality with several standouts, including David Roach as Julius Caesar, Alicia Zorkovic as Cleopatra and Michael Pole as Britannus.
Roach has a powerful stage presence and you cannot help but admire his Caesar. Although Cleopatra fails to inspire the same emotions, she undergoes an intriguing character arc that keeps the audience watching attentively.
The relationship between Caesar and Cleopatra drives the play, and the chemistry between Roach and Zorkovic is central to this production. The characters’ first encounter could be interpreted to have sexual undertones; later, Cleopatra’s feelings towards Caesar seem to shift radically from dependency, to frustration and impatience for his departure.
Shaw had wanted to highlight the political relationship between Caesar and Cleopatra and it would have been good to see these motivations emphasised as the play progressed. However, with the large and talented supporting cast, any imperfections in the tone of the interactions are easily dismissed. At just under three hours, the performance is fast-paced, captivating the audience’s attention.
It is the set, however, that truly distinguishes this production, with a stunning design and lighting effects to rival even the major players in Australian theatre. The stage comprises several half-staircases, an enormous arch, four pillars (one in each corner) and two thrones – all are portable, even though they have the appearance of concrete. With each of the 10 scene changes, the soldiers, servants and slaves move the architecture around the stage, always maintaining the class structure of the era. The set pieces are versatile, morphing from the foot of a sphinx into a lavishly dressed table and then a bed for the Queen.
Projection slides are used to extend the set vertically on the back wall of the theatre. The images are so perfectly suited to the space and the lighting that they look like stone carvings.
Director Rob Croser, with design assistance by David Roach and Nicholas Ely, has constructed a professional, aesthetically striking and fascinating production with a clearly translated plot and well-timed comedic moments. Caesar and Cleopatra is well worth seeing.
The Independent Theatre’s production of Caesar and Cleopatra is playing at the Odeon Theatre in Norwood until April 12.
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