Julius Geezer: A very modern male Shakespeare
The new artistic director at the Lyceum, DAVID MARK THOMSON, has made an adventurous choice for his first Shakespeare. But Julius Caesar, he tells us, is also very much a play of modern politics. Words: Steve Cramer
n the small. resource-starved. and therefore paranoid
world of Scottish theatre. few people escape being
the subject of the off-the-record bitching that occurs when directors. actors and theatre professionals get together over a pint. lt's testament to David .\lark 'l‘homson's abilities and personality that he is one ol' the few who does.
After several years as artistic director ol the Brunton. Thomson emerged as a man universally popular with those who worked with him. Part ol this comes. I think. from a kind of boyish enthusiasm for whatever project he‘s working on. as if this man. well into his 30s. had just graduated from training. Another is the work he plainly puts into his productions. which shine with the quality of authentic detail. lle strikes the as the kind of boss who‘d never ask an employee to do something he wouldn't do. twice over. himsell‘.
But Thomson isn't just a grat’ter. As the ﬁrst new artistic director of the Royal Lyceum in a decade. he's also shown an adventurous and astute hand in programming. .-\s an opening Shakespeare. he might easily have chosen a big. dumb tragedy. or a quirky comedy. Anything from the obvious sentiments of Othello to the opportunities for stylish dal’tness afforded by. say Merry ll'i'ves'. might be easy. unchallenging tare. Julius (never. on the other hand. is altogether different. This is a play that challenges an audience while it entertains them. There aren't the easy escapes into pure emotion that even the best productions of Hamlet provide its with. Nor is there the instant moral stand we can take with The .Wt'l't‘llunl ()f l'eiii'ee. Here there is no real catharsis. so we're left with questions we must ask ourselves. And many of these questions are political. the kind of theme that has been either proscribed or desperately understated in repertory companies of recent years.
‘Political theatre doesn't have to be dull or preachy'
But its politicality. dealing as it does with the moral chicanery of a group ol‘ ruthless. but still personally complex. politicians. still has a human edge. Ila/iris ('uesm' is a difﬁcult play. and I've ol‘ten tell that it cart lead to rather cold productions.’ says ’l‘liomson. ‘Sometimes the excitement and interest don't come across. I re-read this play several times over the last couple of years. and | Mt it was a play that Shakespeare would be writing now. it he were alive. It says very relevant things about the nature ol~ pow er now. What does it mean to become prime minister'.’ Does the nature ol' power mean that you have to becotne a dil‘l'erent person when you have it‘."
And the contemporary resonances are striking. "l‘he Hutton enquiry has been bouncing oh its as we rehearse the play.' Thomson says. "l'he prime minister says he takes lull responsibility. But then he adds that people advised him to do what he did. so it's not really his responsibility. There’s a lot ol‘ that in the play. And you've got to remember that the murder ol‘ ('aesar takes place on the grounds ol‘. not what he's done. btit what he mtg/i! do. It's a striking parallel to why we went to war. The parallels aren't perl‘ect. and they’re not meant to be. because I want to distance it from the questions the play asks.‘
So. the political allegory is important'.’ ‘Wcll. people want to be entertained when they go to the theatre. so it‘s not didactic. it doesn‘t tell you what to think. The play is really a thriller. But we’ve also got to a point. in recent times. where even it we don't want to. we lltll'l' to ask ourselves questions. It does that. Political theatre doesn't have to be dull or preachy.’ And in 'l‘homson‘s hands. it won't be.
Julius Caesar, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Fri 19 Sep—Sat 18 Oct (not Sun/Mon). See listings for details
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‘.‘.'ll(,‘l(l'l)y“ the non National theatre must always be assured of an overall percentage of theatre fundinq in Scotland. and that the funding of the National never becomes distiroportionate to that of other theatres. This would l)l()‘.’l(l(f at least some measure of safety to the likes of the Traverse. the Tron. the CW and the countless other companies currently burning the furniture to keep warm in Scotland that mith erxentuall," suffer from the resource greedy demands of a National
lhe non l)llll(l|llt_) based. <:orrrrviissioning theatre structure must also be kept in place. It's the best of a bad lot as tar as models go. but the tendenc, ot groupings of consecratee tastes in theatre to for'riulate around such Slllllt’Xl’Slllfl institutions is notorious. so don't be surprised if ll‘.’(,‘ years hence. a load of business men seeking group bookings for rapaciOuS lawyers and ilOtlgltatlUICIOU DOllllClallS start writing to the broadsheets demanding a dirt; great shed on the Clyde,
8 to an artistic director, there are no obvious candidates. but it Giles Harergal, suggested by a number of talking heads over the last few days. c0uld be tempted out of retirement to steer the process into place. we might at least have the benefit of a wise and sceptical head taCilitating this rather threatening process.
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