Saturday, May 12, 2018

Singapore Repertory Theatre's Shakespeare in the Park: Julius Caesar - A Fascinating, Modern Take on an Old Tale

The weather was sticky and muggy last Sunday evening, but Red Dot Diva felt happy to be back in Fort Canning Park for an evening of theatre accompanied by a enjoyable picnic on the lawn. She was there to indulge in one of the biggest Shakespeare in the Park productions in the region - Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT)'s adaptation of Julius Caesar. The production also part of SRT's 25th Anniversary celebrations.

In 2017, SRT called off the beloved annual Shakespeare in the Park due to funding issues, as they saw large sponsors depart and production costs rise. However, with backing from loyal corporate sponsors as well as support and crowdfunding from an ardent group of theatre lovers, the outdoor production is back in its usual venue, with a huge impressive set!

Right after entering Fort Canning's Gothic Gates, attendees were invited to climb up the stairs from backstage and to walk around the modern, "concrete-and-glass" looking Roman Piazza set. A semi-circular structure held an audio-visual display, and flags of the seven "nations" of the R.O.M.E. alliance marked the stage where the Shakespearean tragedy will later unfold. Standing up on stage with ushers who were dressed the part as government officials, Red Dot Diva felt as if she has already become part of the story.

Shakepeare's Julius Caesar is about friendship and betrayal, the question whether one's action is for self or for country, and most of all, how fickle-minded the common people can be. Regarding the last point, Red Dot Diva sees this happen all the time, especially with the advent of social media. News, including fake ones, travel faster and more virulently, riling up intense feelings that fuels a kind of mob mentality which usually ends up with a witchhunt. As in the case of poor Cinna the poet, who in the play was attacked by an angry crowd just because he shared the same name as one of the conspirators who had murdered Caesar. Sounds familiar?

It's also with this part of the play - the depiction in which information flows from source to the common people - which makes SRT's adaptation of Julius Caesar most impressive. Director Guy Unworth has skillfully woven the political intrigue with the fantastic stage design by Richard Kent, that consisted of large, curved interactive screens. These screens displayed social media streams or TV screens with news tickers, and also projected live video captures from an actual camera during a few key scenes. It may sound awfully millennial, but in this production, it works very effectively, adding to the urgency and political drama of the play.

Not only were the main actors telling the story in this production. Throughout the play, the extras and additional actors were also important elements as inquisitive media folks or as the man (and woman) on the street, who are looking to their leaders to make decisions which would better their lives.

As for the heavily marketed female Julius Caesar, actor Jo Kukathas had not that many lines to utter. This was expected. The play may be called Julius Caesar, but it was more about the character's cohort of frenemies. However, by embodying the role as a moderately masculine-female, dressed mostly in dark pantsuits, and standing with arrogant confidence despite her small stature, Jo Kukathas portrayal helps raise questions to many who may still be used to watching a man being the leader of a country. Are we ready for a female Prime Minister in the local, political context?

Before Caesar is able to grasp more power for herself, the audience was witness to the play's bloody climax - a #stabbystabstab scene that was done so well that Red Dot Diva noticed everyone being riveted to the tragedy happening before them.

As for the rest of the cast, Red Dot Diva thought Julie Wee was energetic and remarkable as the manipulative Cassius, her clear voice easily depicting the character's various emotions from love to disgust and outrage. Julie Wee's very feminine Cassius was able to make her mark amongst her male peers, even swaying them to her political ambitions. A female Cassius also offered a different kind of chemistry with Brutus regarding their close relationship, and Red Dot Diva thought it added a layer to the interaction, and showed how some women are able to deftly use emotions for their own desire.

Then, there was Thomas Pang's charismatic Mark Anthony. Wow. From the moment, he uttered "Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears" at Caesar's funeral, Red Dot Diva was sold 110% - just like the plebians of R.O.M.E. hoping for another leader to follow. At some point of his populist rhetoric, an extra on stage acting as a cameraman deftly turned the equipment to focus on Marc Anthony, with the audience in the background. The images were projected on the large screens on stage, and Red Dot Diva thought this was when the play got freakily meta and really cool. Thomas Pang's delivery of the speech was absolutely captivating, convincing, and haunting. He worked the audience real good. A top notch performance.

After watching SRT's contemporary take on Julius Caesar, Red Dot Diva felt that the more things change, the more things stay the same. Recent events like Trump's presidency, Brexit, and the results of Malaysia's 2018 General Election are testaments to this. Politicians either saying they are doing  good for the country, or fooling themselves (and others) that they are doing so. Enemies becoming friends, and friends becoming enemies, till one calls into question - when it comes down to power and money, are we who we say we are to each other?

Other than being just a night of heavy, socio-politcal insights, SRT's Shakespeare in the Park - Julius Caesar was an enjoyable, lively and spellbinding production. It was so good to have Shakespeare in the Park back. Here's to more Shakespeare in the Park nights!


Don't miss the show. Get your tickets to SRT's Shakespeare in the Park : Julius Caesar now!

Dates: Now till 27th May 2018
Prices: From $45 (group concessions and F&B packages available)
Venue: Fort Canning Park
Ticketing: SISTIC at 6348 5555 or

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