Canadian Stage brings the political classic Julius Caesar to Toronto audiences
Seeing a performance of Canadian Stage‘s Shakespeare in High Park is one of the highlights of the summer for me. This year, it just so happen that I chose the hottest day thus far to take in Julius Caesar. Though the heat, mugginess and bugs may be enough to steer people away from sitting outside on the grass for a few hours, the eye-opening performance was enough to keep the audience intrigued and entranced.
Julius Caesar is one of Shakespeare’s more political plays illustrating the final days and aftermath of the fall of the famous Roman general. To that degree, various aspects of the story are relevant today which the company has illustrated by taking a few modern approaches to costuming, sound, lighting and design to great effect.
The story begins with Julius Caesar’s triumphant return to Rome after the defeat of his rival Pompey. The celebration sparks discord among conspirators who sees his ambition to take the throne as a threat and convince Caesar’s good friend Brutus that Caesar needs to fall to protect the Roman Republic.
Right from the beginning, the performance captures the audience’s attention by taking place within the crowd. Julius Caesar’s procession to the stage occurs through the central aisle, providing lucky audience members, myself included, an up close and personal view of the action. There were quite a number of scenes that took place within that central aisle and that level of immersion for the audience brought the story to life.
Though Julius Caesar is the title of the play, he is not the central figure of the story. And though Allan Louis’ portrayal of the general is both charismatic and captivating, I was immediately drawn to Dylan Trowbridge as Marc Antony who delivered a raw, guttural and unrefined portrayal of the character that I haven’t seen before.
Sean Baek as Brutus was also great fun to watch. Both Antony’s grief and Brutus’ anguish are what truly drive this story. One of my friends who saw the performance with me pointed out that Baek tripped over a few of his lines which she found distracting. I didn’t notice this happen as often as she did.
I liked the decision to keep the set and costumes in classical Roman style up to the point of Caesar’s death. Then afterwards having the costumes, lighting and musical choices take on a modern twist as Rome falls to ruins in riots complete with police barricades. It creates a very interesting visual reminiscent of current political events.
A fantastic use of modern costuming and scenery involved the role of the Soothsayer, Michael McManus, who later in the production, donned white paint on his face and clothes as he stood in the background. With the lighting illuminating him just so, he appeared nothing more than a statue in the backdrop. I nearly forgot he was present in the scene until he spoke again.
That said, I found the musical choices for the transitions jarring and out of place. The use of hard rap music pulled me out of the headspace of the scene and therefore out of the story and I had to resettle into the flow.
There also seemed to be a delay in the audio from when an actor would speak and when the speakers would pick up the sound. I’m not sure if this was a result of natural amplification in an outdoor space or a technical glitch and I found myself wondering if this occurred in previous years. In any case, I found the echoing of the audio a bit distracting.
But technical issues aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the show. I loved that it seemed to be the most engaging and immersive Shakespeare in High Park performance that I have experienced and for that alone, Julius Caesar makes for a fantastic summer night out.
- Julius Caesar runs until September 5 at the High Park Ampitheatre (1873 Bloor St W).
- Performances run Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 8 pm. Special backstage tours and Youth Nights are available, see website for details.
- Children 14 and under are free. Regular tickets are PWYC at the entrance, suggested donation is $20, with advance tickets available online for $25.
- Audience advisory: Some audience participation, violence, and in-crowd activity.
Photo of Soo Garey, Allan Louis, Randi Helmers, and Christopher Allen by Paul Lampert.