After a triumphant start to Storyhouse’s opening season of home produced theatre, the UK’s newest theatre continues its inaugural programme with its fourth and final show - Shakespeare’s most brutal political thriller Julius Caesar.
Actor Christopher Wright, who plays eponymous hero Julius Caesar in Storyhouse’s production, has his own views on the play’s enduring popularity.
He said: “There is a reason why Julius Caesar has survived for 400 years. It is no secret it gives us a very public and brutal murder, carried out by honourable people for principled reasons.
“It gives us power struggles between powerful political and military leaders. It shows us the awful consequences that can follow apparently fine and honest words.
“One might call to mind Gove’s treachery to Boris, Blair’s Iraq war or even politicians’ words to us as we struggle to frame a reasoned response to recent horrific, heartless and barbaric acts.
“Our play is in the clothes of our time because it is happening now, tonight, in front of you by people who we hope you will recognise. Also, it’s a rattling good story and togas are draughty.”
Given the political events of 2016, June’s General Election and hit shows like Netflix’s House of Cards, politics is very much part of people’s lives and interests.
Wright said: “Trump has been part of our discussions. At the outset it was tempting to develop a shorthand that suggested Caesar was a Trump like figure who we were to assassinate.
“However this simple analogy was not helpful either for us or the audience. Firstly we are not in America but Rome and more importantly Shakespeare has given us a Caesar who, although imperious and very much in charge, is an ageing warrior going deaf and afflicted with epilepsy. He is hiding feelings of mortality and his star is waning, if only he knew it. This all felt very unTrump like.
“However Trump was useful was in developing a visual language. Keep a look out for familiar political placards expressing the crowd’s adulation of Caesar. See if you can spot some gestures that many of our politicians seem to use these days.”
Storyhouse have cast actor Natalie Grady to play Caesar’s right had man, Marc Antony. On a woman playing a man, Grady said: ‘On some level, I would say the gender switch is irrelevant.
“Every actor that has the opportunity to play this role will bring something different to it. I would hope my Mark Antony is different to those that have gone before me (and indeed those that will take the baton after me) for a whole host of reasons, not just because I am a woman.
“Mark Antony was one of the greatest generals; an extremely powerful person. Shakespeare gifts us with a character that is ambitious, headstrong, manipulative, intelligent, emotional... the list goes on! For me it is about exploring these qualities, which I don’t particularly see as gender specific.
“Of course, for some, a woman interpreting a role written for and traditionally played by a man, can draw attention to characteristics that we have long associated with men - my hope would be that it shines a light on the universality of Shakespeare’s characters.”
She described her Antony: “When you read a play like Julius Caesar in the mindset of playing Mark Antony, there is an immediate realisation of how differently Shakespeare wrote for men. I’ve never had the opportunity to play a part like this and it’s liberating to be released from a world of romance and domesticity.
“I’ve never had to make speeches about starting a civil war before or be responsible for creating an angry and vengeful mob. Also, with a part like Mark Antony, you’re dealing with some of the most famous and brilliantly constructed speeches in Shakespeare; speeches you know have been performed by some of the greatest actors.
“However, this is less about measuring myself against the great actors that have gone before me (be they male or female), but more about measuring myself against some of the greatest poetry in drama. It asks for a fearlessness, which when found can be exhilarating.”
Storyhouse welcomes back seven actors from its various seasons at Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre – Grady returns after playing Rosalind in 2011’s As You Like It.
She said: “I had an amazing summer the last time I worked in Chester. It was a wonderful company to work for then.
“To see what the theatre has achieved in such a small amount of time is fantastic! I feel incredibly lucky to be part of the first year of shows at Storyhouse - it really is very humbling.”
Julius Caesar is directed by Loveday Ingram, and opens at Storyhouse on Friday, June 23. It will be performed at Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre from August 3–27. Tickets prices range from £18.50, with limited standby tickets on the day for £10, and under 26s can go on Friday nights for £10.
Find out more and book at storyhouse.com