Review: Julius Caesar at The Questors Theatre

Review: Julius Caesar at The Questors Theatre

By Gemma McDonald

Questors Theatre is set in the heart of Ealing and has been renowned for over a hundred years for producing amateur theatre productions with volunteering members of the local community. They have performed a varied selection of plays over the years. This year alone, they have produced the only ever English adaptation of the 18th-century German play Sara Sampson and comedic plays such as "You Can't Take It with You" by George Kaufman. This week, Questors is going back to the classics with a modern take on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

Shakespeare's tragedy "Julius Caesar" is set in ancient Rome. The story centres on the plot against the esteemed Roman general Julius Caesar and the eventual killing of Caesar by a group of senators, one of whom was close to Caesar and named Brutus. The conspirators worry that Caesar would turn into a dictator due to his ambition, which they see as a threat to the Republic. But what they do sparks a civil war and political anarchy. Following Caesar's murder, a number of things happen, such as the ascent of Mark Antony, who wants to exact revenge on Caesar. Power, treachery, ambition, and the fallout from political unrest are among the topics that are explored in the drama. In the end, it results in the conspirators' downfall and the terrible deaths of several of the main characters, including Brutus, Cassius, and Trebonius.

The director of the piece, Mark Oldknow, is a new member of Questors, having joined last year. Previously, he trained at LAMDA and worked professionally as an artistic director on over 100 productions with the theatre company, Wycombe Swan. For this production, Oldknow stated that “The choice of modern dress is always the simplest to make. Does setting it in a modern period support my understanding of the play, and will it enlighten or confuse the audience?” An example of this “modern dress” within this production is the way in which the battle scenes are depicted. The use of sound effects of modern artillery weapons, such as machine guns, as well as the choice of costume for the soldiers, definitely give the play a more modern and relatable feel. In this adaptation, Oldknow frames the play as being in the dream of a little girl who is reading a book about Caesar in the opening scenes. Throughout the play, the girl assumes a couple of minor roles while also being a blend of a performer and audience member, as during some scenes, she is a bystander. This device helps to gain originality in the production and is able to engage the audience in a unique way. The “girl” is played by Hyssop Benson, who was a student at Questors, but this is their first onstage debut since their student shows.

The acting in this production is strong from start to finish. The play tackles themes of tyranny, power, death, and destruction, and the inner turmoil of each of the characters is well performed, especially in the cases of the ongoing tension between the characters of Cassius and Brutus. The production is able to capture the essence of the original play and present the rivalry between the two roles very strongly. Brutus is played by Ant Foran, who is another recent member of Questors but who has since performed in “You Can't Take It with You”. Foran trained at the Australian Academy of Performing Arts and has appeared in other productions outside of Questors, including a production of Macbeth and Animal Farm. Cassius is played by James Burgess, who studied at Drama Studio London. Burgess has performed in a lot of other Questors productions, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream and last year’s panto, Treasure Island.

Overall, the utilisation of lights, sound effects, and space really brings the production to life, with characters entering through and around the audience, the split between stage and audience delightfully blurred, achieving a more immersive experience. I would definitely consider checking out this fabulous production at Questors before it is too late.