Following a period of absence, comebacks are, by nature, memorable. And for its 25th anniversary, the Singapore Repertory Theatre plans to really shake things up with the return of Shakespeare in the Park. Having skipped a year due to lack of funding, the outdoor performance is back with Julius Caesar, set against a backdrop of modern politics and current global affairs.
“Shakespeare didn’t stick entirely to the details surrounding Caesar’s death, so it seems to me he meant the play to be a political thriller rather than a historical documentary,” says director Guy Unsworth. “There’s a lot of talk about Rome and Romans in the play but, more specifically, it’s about the honour, history and responsibility that identity carries. So my big question was: What is the equivalent of Rome today?”
Since the play revolves around the assassination of a purportedly overly ambitious politician and its world-changing fallout, it struck Unsworth that intergovernmental organisations like the United Nations, Group of Seven (G7) and Nato could fit the mould. The play thus opens with a summit for “R.O.M.E 7”.
To add to the relevance of this decade, theatre veteran Jo Kukathas was cast in the title role, who in this iteration is a woman with supreme power in R.O.M.E. “Caesar’s gender doesn’t feel that significant, therefore a gender swop was easy,” Unsworth says. “Moreover, the casual descriptions of a ‘man’s world’ and Caesar’s power over men seems to have special resonance today. It invites discussion of the representation and role of women in power, as well as the attitudes of the public – particularly from men.”
But it’s neither Caesar nor the conflicted Brutus that Unsworth sees as his production’s hero. “Shakespeare lets the audience decide for themselves who the hero really is,” he says. “I’m not keen to make up my mind about it.”
The entire production cost approximately $1.5 million to stage (covered by presenting sponsor Transtec and a successful crowdfunding campaign) and Unsworth promises it will be fast and furious, with plenty of theatrical surprises along the way.
“When I was a teenager, I found Shakespeare very difficult to get into, so whenever I direct such a production, I want to make something my younger self would have enjoyed.”
Shakespeare in the Park – Julius Caesar runs from May 2 to 27 at Fort Canning Park.
Photo: Singapore Repertory Theatre