Review: Julius Caesar (Red Sandcastle Theatre)

Bloody Quests for Power in Julius Caesar Playing at Toronto’s Red Sandcastle Theatre

After voting in our provincial election, I went back to Roman Empire politics and saw different techniques of rising to power. Julius Caesar opened at the Red Sandcastle Theatre for a delighted, entertained audience. This powerful Shakespearean production was about democracy-minded politicians seeking to kill off their overly-ambitious leader.

To get you in the mood for this action-packed story, let me recap. An all-powerful, triumphant General Julius Caesar returns to Rome to an adoring crowd. Some senators fear that power has gotten to Caesar’s head, and that he will crown himself king.

Senator Cassius turns Brutus, a well-respected thinker, against Caesar. Hence the Brutus-Cassius team hatches a plan to literally stab Caesar in the back, out of sight from Caesar’s loyal soldier Antony.

Conniving Cassius, played by Françoise Balthazar, is someone you don’t want to mess with. Balthazar’s booming voice, hardened face and passionate body language made Cassius a compelling, untrustworthy character. She commanded my attention, convincingly portraying a sly, manipulative, clever man.

Toni Ellwand played the contemplative Brutus. Somewhat meek in the early scenes, he becomes a man of action when Caesar must be overturned. I was eager to see what would happen between him and Antony as the play unfolded, as they were doomed to butt heads…

Mighty Trudy Weiss was the mighty Julius Caesar. What a bully. It’s no wonder Caesar’s entourage wanted him dead.

And the strut of Antony. Llyandra Jones plays Caesar’s young ally, and Jones’ walk says that Antony is untouchable. To my delight, tough guy Antony got more of the limelight in the second half of the play.

For those of you whose last taste of Shakespeare took place during high school English class, hath no fear—you’ll understand the Shakespeare-speak. Seeing Julius Caesar in this intimate 30-seat venue means that we are up close and personal with the actors, and somehow their speech makes perfect sense.

This close proximity, plus the effective sound and light, kept us grounded in the story. Morgan O’Leary’s ominous percussion and Marc Benson’s lighting made me feel suspense, fear and alarm. Death scenes were appropriately bathed in red light, adding creepiness to the atmosphere.

I liked how Caesar’s blood was represented by strips of red cloth. The killers accepted responsibility for Caesar’s murder by wrapping these strips around their fingers. It was a mess-free sharing of guilt.

While this is an all-female production of Julius Caesar, you won’t be seeing damsels in distress (aside from a brief appearance of Brutus’s wife). To be honest, I did not notice whether or not the actors were men or women. They were seamlessly in character, despite their curves.

Julius Caesar was a grand production that made the audience watch in suspense as we witnessed power struggles unravel. During intermission, people buzzed with remarks on the Queen St sidewalk. Then we were beaming with delight during the applause.

See how director Jennifer Parr made it all come together. Friends, Romans, countrymen, go forth to the welcoming Red Sandcastle Theatre for your summer dose of the Bard.

Details:

  • Julius Caesar is playing at the Red Sandcastle Theatre (922 Queen Street East) until June 22nd
  • Shows run on Sundays at 2:00 p.m., as well as Wednesday to Monday at 7:30 p.m.
  • General admission will cost you $20 or $15 for students, seniors and artsworkers. There is also a PWYC performance on June 16th
  • Tickets are available at the box office, or by calling 416-845-9411

Photo of Toni Ellwand and Françoise Balthazar taken by Bonnie Anderson.

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