“As Caesar loved me, I weep for him; as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was valiant, I honour him: but, as he was ambitious, I slew him!” cries Brutus to the crowd, in William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy. It’s a line I’ve often admired for its depth, rhetorical stylings, and characterisation, but I’ve always thought that there was something missing from the text. It turns out that might have been the addition of “F*ck off, Brutus you c*nt!” being shouted from the back of the hall. Now, thanks to The Assassination of Julius Caesar, a radio play by the University of Leeds’ Open Theatre, I know how the two would work together.
This adaptation, written by Ejiro Raye, delivers a retelling of the classic story you probably half-remember from GCSE English. Julius Caesar, a renowned political and military figure, is slowly sinking into the realms of tyranny, taking all the land and power from the greedy senators who did nothing to earn it, and then keeping it all for himself. This enrages a large group of senators who decide to, in the interests of safeguarding the republic, give Caesar a good talking to. With knives.
So yeah, it’s essentially the first two acts of the Bard’s play, but the noticeable aspect of this project is that it embraces a cruder and pettier style of narrative. Inspired by The Thick of It and The Death of Stalin, the characters here all talk with plenty of backhanded compliments, threats, and insults that would make twelve-year-olds playing video games online sound like parliamentary language. Raye’s direct and brazen style of dialogue makes for several engaging verbal sparring sessions, with the characters of Brutus and Cassius (played by Thomas Davy and Leah Hand) constantly at each other’s throats with some very original and creative insults. It’s definitely an entertaining hour, within which you’ll likely find some new ways to make fun of (insert politician of your choice).
To be honest, it’s an impressive-sounding production all around; a radio play that provides depth and scale to the audio experience. Several scenes that are meant to contain large crowds of up to 200 people really seem to be packed, and the sound mixing throughout is of high quality to the point that you don’t feel that anything would be added by including visuals. The voice acting is a lot of fun throughout; I particularly enjoyed Luke Anderson as the consult, Decimus, who has the energy of Percy Weasley if he was allowed to stab people.
Perhaps the drawback to all of this is that the style choice made by the director doesn’t necessarily elevate the production to impressive heights. Something like The Death of Stalin worked well because there was the amusing contrast of watching Soviet Mean Girls play out in the background of mass executions, political suppression, and the cultural weight of the entire cold war. The Assassination of Julius Caesar doesn’t seem interested in using it’s stylistic choice to engage in much more than calling Brutus’s mother a whore, and having the word Rubicon and d*ckhead in the same sentence. It is extremely entertaining, but it doesn’t really provide a new take on the interesting subject matter.
So, whilst not perhaps meeting its strong ambitions, The Assassination of Julius Caesar is still definitely worth a listen, and it did provide an amusing hour or so to pass the time with. I don’t have that much of a background in radio plays other than a couple of Big Finish productions and Cabin Pressure, but I still got a great deal of pleasure listening to the production. In fact, Raye’s adaptation is probably more accessible than any other production of the same story.
You can listen to Open Theatre’s The Assassination of Julius Caesar here.
Words by Mischa Alexander.
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