Wednesday, April 25, 2018

SRT's Shakespeare in the Park : Julius Caesar - Diva's Interview with Director, Guy Unsworth


Freelance director Guy Unsworth is currently back here working on another Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT) production - the upcoming performance of Shakespeare in the Park : Julius Caesar.

Last year, he directed the dark comedy SRTs "Hand of God", which scored positive reviews from critics and audiences. His recent works include an acclaimed UK tour of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" and his own adaptation of "Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em".

Even though he is busy getting the play ready for the 2 May launch date, Red Dot Diva managed to grab a few minutes of his time for an interview:

Red Dot Diva: How did you get involved with SRT's Shakespeare in the Park: Julius Caesar? 
Guy Unsworth: I was introduced to Gaurav Kripalani and Juliet Chia back in 2016 and since then we’ve been talking about the exciting potential of Julius Caesar. I came to Singapore last year to stage Hand to God, and since then have been working solidly on this production.

RDD: What is it like adapting the play for Singapore audiences?
Guy: It’s a fun challenge. I was very keen to find a contemporary equivalent that would work in the international community of Singapore. There’s a lot of talk about Rome and Romans in the play, but specifically the honour, history and responsibility that that identity carries. The big question for me to answer therefore was ‘What is the equivalent of Rome today?’. More than just a literal place, 'Rome' is an identity, it’s a community, and a title which binds these people together. It then struck me that intergovernmental organisations like NATO, the UN, G7, G20 etc. carry stakes on a much more global scale. They require their members to work as a team, but inevitably alliances form and factions are made. And where better to have lots of different nationalities coming together than Singapore? So it seemed a perfect fit to set this at a R.O.M.E. summit.

I was also excited by the age range of the Singapore audiences and I want the show to reach out to younger audience members. When I was a teenager I found Shakespeare very difficult to get my head into, so whenever I direct it, I'm very keen to bear my younger self in mind. It's going to be pretty fast and furious, and there are lots of theatrical surprises along the way. I want to make something which my teenage self would have enjoyed.

RDD: What made you decide to “gender-bend” the roles of Caesar and Cassius? 
Guy: It’s a play about politics and power dynamics, so with a contemporary setting, it would seem backward to cast these figureheads as all male. In fact if we stuck to the original genders, there would be 2 female parts and 45 male parts! Whilst Shakespeare wrote a show about a monumental event in history, he was clearly most interested in the dynamic between his central characters. And whilst the facts of Caesar’s death were roughly documented in history (by Plutarch), the personalities of the main characters and the way they all interact is more an invention of Shakespeare. When casting, I became interested in who these people might be in today’s society, and indeed what their relationships are, and I think our casting reflects some very unique but appropriate choices. Jo Kukuthas plays Caesar, a woman with supreme power in Rome. Whilst gender doesn’t feel so significant that a gender swap would be impossible, it’s the casual descriptions of a man’s world and Caesar’s power over men which seems to have a special resonance across the world today, bringing to the table for discussion the representation and role of women in power, and the attitudes from the public or, indeed, men.

Similarly, the central pairing of Cassius and Brutus, two politicians who collude to overthrow Caesar, seems to have a depth beyond the basic politics. They are emotionally tangled with one another, and the battle between their professional and personal relationship offers great opportunities. I’m thrilled that Julie Wee and Ghafir Akhbar are taking on this very exciting duo.

RDD: I heard that the set in this production will be something unique. Tell me more about it. 
Guy: The park is such an interesting place to design for, as there is no traditional theatre layout to act as a template or starting point. On the one hand, that's a daunting prospect as all the infrastructure has to be brought in (power supply, dressing rooms, technical bases etc.) but the canvas is so blank that the world is also our oyster.

Richard Kent is an extraordinarily talented designer and he has created a set with a 360 degree design that the audience can interact with, and at times (for some) be a part of. There is no traditional ‘back stage’ this year, so the audience will enter the park and see the set as soon as they enter. It will sit as a self-contained sculpture and piece of architecture, with a fully designed view from every angle.

As ever the set is very large, but we have worked hard to create a space that can be theatrical as well as intimate. Lighting and special effects are integral, and will help frame this intriguing, pertinent and timely story. Expect to see lots of theatrical flair and spectacular costumes.

RDD: In what other aspects will this interpretation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar be different from some other variations that have been performed? 
Guy: Politics in a modern context and the play’s exploration of the difference between public and private image, meant that press and the media could play a large part in the production. As a result, the production uses live cameras, 24 television screens, video links, social media feeds, and news forecasts. All the material for this is written by Shakespeare, but the context is very different. It’s really fun, and I’m constantly surprised by how easily his words fit the media world.



RDD: What have been the most challenging aspects of directing this production? 
Guy: The biggest challenge is the scale of the show. Very rarely do plays attract an audience as great as 2000, so this show is pretty huge in scale. Fortunately Shakespeare opened London’s Globe Theatre with Julius Caesar, a theatre which held 3000, so if any play is appropriate for the size of Fort Canning Park this is the one.

RDD: Doing the work on an artist, in itself, can sometimes be seen to be political. Given the political climate that we are in, what do you think is an artist’s role being involved with controversial characters or plays? 
Guy: I’m more interested in directing theatre to provoke a discussion or debate, than dictating the result of a debate. I’m more excited by the idea of audiences not necessarily agreeing with one another, or changing their own minds half way through. That’s certainly what Shakespeare is getting at with Julius Caesar, and he’s very clever in how he does it. So for me, my job on JC is really to serve up what Shakespeare intended, and let the audience make their own minds up.

RDD: What do you hope the audience will take away after watching SRT’s Shakespeare in the Park:
Guy: Honestly, I hope they have a fantastic and unique evening at the theatre, whether they’re Shakespeare fans or not. To me, it’s a great high-stakes political thriller, and I’m pretty sure Shakespeare saw it as that too, so I hope audiences will be entertained by the great storytelling. But don’t be put off by it being a play about politics - it’s not. It’s a play about power, ambition, revenge, friends, enemies, men, women, love. There’s a storm, a flood, a riot, a fight, a party, and a murder. It’s a big show, I’m very excited!
RDD: I'm super excited too!


If you want to gather more tidbits of what Guy Unsworth has to say about SRT's Shakespeare in the Park: Julius Caesar, watch the video below:





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Don't miss out on getting your Shakespeare in the Park: Julius Caesar tickets, if you have not done so already!

Dates: From 2nd to 27th May 2018
Prices: From $45 (group concessions and F&B packages available)
Venue: Fort Canning Park
Ticketing: SISTIC at 6348 5555 or http://www.srt.com.sg/show/juliuscaesar


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