Despite doing an English degree and so having spent many hours of my life immersed in the Bard’s iambic pentameter, I had, until last week, never seen Julius Caesar on stage. In fact, my encounters with the play had never got beyond a grainy Marlon Brando proclaiming in a toga. Luckily, Nicholas Hytner’s superb new production at the Bridge Theatre was worth waiting for.
The current political climate has led, inevitably, to a spate of modern stagings of Shakespeare’s text, the most infamous being the 2017 production at the Public Theater in New York, which portrayed Caesar as a swaggering politician in an unmistakable blonde wig. This production, too, is set in the 21st Century but by combining bold staging with nuanced, clearly delineated performances, it retains a subtlety and emotional punch that sets it apart from recent reincarnations.
It was the theatrical event of the summer – but almost nobody actually got to see it.
By bringing together the irresistibly British pairing of luvvie icon, Kenneth Branagh, and heartthrob du jour (if a little more divisive post-that Taylor Swift vest), Tom Hiddleston, RADA ensured that their Hamlet joined the ranks of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Hamilton as a production designed to generate the same levels of hysteria as a One Direction concert crossed with a really, really cute puppy.
This Hamlet was produced to raise money for the world-class drama school, with profits going towards projects such as a major refurbishment of the estate and access schemes for budding actors. Running in RADA’s Jerwood Vanbrugh Theatre, which only has 160 seats, tickets were allocated through an online ballot and were enormously over-subscribed. Those of us who had managed to beat the odds congregated in the foyer well in advance of the 7.30pm start time, clutching our paper tickets with a mixture of unbridled glee and terror that we’d somehow be refused entry at the last minute.
I recently saw Yerma at the Young Vic, directed by Simon Stone. I’m a little late with this review (the play has been running since late July and recently closed) but it had a significant impact on me, and I wanted to share my thoughts nonetheless.
As Spanish speaker, I was nervous. Lorca is notoriously difficult to translate. His texts are rich with strong imagery and cultural resonances, and the rhythm of the lines heightens the emotional intensity of the language. His plays are beautiful to read aloud in Spanish; even if you can’t understand the words, meaning is conveyed through the flow of consonants.
I needn’t have worried; watching Yerma, I was thrown straight into the world of the play. Despite being written and set in Catholic Spain in the 1930s, it felt unnervingly fresh and relevant.