Sean Goedecke is a freelance writer trying to visit every cafe in Australia. If you enjoy his articles, it can't hurt to click the 'like' link at the bottom or subscribe.
The political knifing that started it all
Sometimes it's tempting to view the Fringe Festival as a kind of giant lens where artworks and performances are given a distinctively Melbourne-shaped aspect. The attraction of many Fringe Festival plays is not so much to see the play itself as to see what the Fringe culture has made of it. Look at the planned remake of Shakespeare's As You Like It, retitled How It Is and filtered through the "vicious wit of feminist hag Van Badham". How It Is was unfortunately cancelled, but there's another Fringe Festival Shakespeare running. David Lamb, with the Proper Villains theatre company, is directing a production of Julius Caesar at Revolt Melbourne until the 5th of October.
The cast rehearsing at Federation Square.
Revolt Melbourne is quite literally on the fringes of the inner city. Backed up against a train line and surrounded by gigantic grain silos, it's not easy to find (although it is very close to Kensington train station). As Zoe Gould noted in her review of Water Torture - also at Revolt Melbourne - the space itself is worth visiting whether you plan to go to the play or not. It's a converted warehouse decked out with a long plywood bar and a ton of kitschy 8-bit video game art. Old horror movies soundlessly play on a projector in the corner. A pool table with a single bandaged cue is tucked away up the back. An ancient cathode-ray television runs some forgotten console game from the 90s. There's a mostly-vegetarian menu for a meal before the show and a surprisingly cheap ($5 pots, $7 schooners) drinks menu.
What about the play itself? It's performed at the Loading Dock, right up in the guts of Revolt Melbourne's warehouse. The corners of the room are pitch black and serve as stage left and right for the actors, who click-clack across the concrete floor in high heels and business shoes. There's a raised section with uneven safety rails that look designed to trip people over the edge. It's very much a Fringe Festival atmosphere: no scenery, no props, no curtain.
The whole play is performed with eight or nine actors, necessitating some bold casting choices. In perhaps the boldest, Christian Grant plays Julius Caesar as well as Marc Antony, switching out his confident, almost-bogan drawl for Antony's more soft-spoken demeanor.
Christian Grant plays both Caesar and his closest friend.
The lack of costume changes - Grant wears the same suit as Antony that he does as Caesar - is deliberate but a little disorienting, and it's occasionally unclear whether the conspirators are playing themselves or simply members of the crowd. Still, thanks to some heavy-duty pruning of the script, the plot is never outright confusing and the characters call each other by name often enough for the audience to keep track.
Although the original Shakespearean dialogue has been kept, the aesthetics are more Mad Men than Roman: suits and collared shirts for everybody. Emily O'Kane's outstanding performance as Casca - the first conspirator to actually stab Caesar - includes constant fiddling with her smartphone, right down to taking Instagram snaps of Marc Antony's famous "friends, Romans, countrymen" speech.
Emily O'Kane plays Casca.
In fact, Casca is played throughout as a sort of disaffected Millennial sociopath, smirking at her fellow conspirators and grinning at Caesar's corpse. It's a small touch, but it serves to pull the audience thoroughly into the world of the play.
The whole thing goes for ninety minutes, no intermission, but it's fast-paced enough that it seems like half an hour. There's no direct nod to the recent political knifings in Australia (although a Theatre Alive review nods at the business suits) but there doesn't really need to be. Shakespeare's treatment of ambition, honour and the resentment of underlings resonates with us today as it did hundreds of years ago. Proper Villains have put on a bare-bones Julius Caesar that hits all the right notes. Go see it.