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Julius Caesar channels spirit of a new generation

Shakespeare in the Park production modernises Roman drama with wefie-taking soothsayers and CNN-like broadcasts.

The role of Julius Caesar in this year’s Shakespeare in the Park is played by a woman. As is the role of Caius Cassius, the character who persuades Brutus to kill his friend to protect the freedom of individual states. But the gender switch hardly matters. Sure, there are hints of sexual tension between Cassius and Brutus, and a faint whiff of female jealousy as the spur to Cassius’ betrayal of Caesar, but the thread is not developed enough to encourage a re-think of gender dynamics within the traditionally male-dominated play.

  • Julius Caesar 2018 Shakespeare in the Park
    Brutus (Ghafir Akbar) explaining why Caesar had to be killed.

What is known: Malaysian theatre veteran Jo Kukathas is one hell of a Caesar. She commands every scene she’s in, cooly demonstrating that one can lounge and still radiate power. She’s matched in charisma by Shakespeare in the Park regular – Daniel Jenkins, who plays world leader Casca. World leader and not senator because in this production directed by Guy Unsworth, the classic Roman drama is set in present day. Rome is R.O.M.E., an international alliance inspired by global leagues such as the UN, G7 and Asean. The honchos band together to assassinate one of their own for her perceived ambition to rule over them all, only to be hunted down by her avengers.

 

The action takes place under the scrutiny of a CNN-like media and social media – a soothsayer takes a wefie with Caesar, go figure – and the roles of Caesar’s wife Calpurnia and good friend Mark Antony have been modernised to be her executive personal assistant and director of communications, respectively. The avengers, aka team Mark Antony, are portrayed as a bunch of hoodie-clad thugs who broadcast their execution over video. Not all the elements work, but it’s all very modern and fast-paced, the thriller aspect of the story propelling it through any Elizabethan language hurdle. Consider the dust blown off your high-school reading and glossed with a millennial veneer.

(Related: Jo Kukathas on being Caesar)

Shakespeare in the Park: Julius Caesar, produced by the Singapore Repertory Theatre, is on at Fort Canning Park until May 27.