‘Great Per­for­mances’ of­fers an all-fe­male ‘Julius Cae­sar’

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - On Tv - BY JAY BOB­BIN

As many times as “Julius Cae­sar” has been staged, it’s never been done quite the way “Great Per­for­mances” is pre­sent­ing it.

Shake­speare’s clas­sic gets an all-fe­male cast and a very sparse set in the ver­sion by Lon­don’s Don­mar Ware­house that airs Fri­day, March 29, on PBS (check lo­cal list­ings). Di­rected by Phyl­l­ida Lloyd (“Mamma Mia!”) and air­ing in con­junc­tion with Women’s His­tory Month, the pro­duc­tion re­lo­cates the play to a women’s prison where the char­ac­ters are in­mates and guards.

The story ba­sics re­main fa­mil­iar, though, as Bru­tus (played by “Mary Stu­art” Tony Award nom­i­nee Dame Har­riet Wal­ter) grap­ples with whether to be­tray Cae­sar (Jackie Clunes) in the most pro­nounced way. Jade Anouka also is promi­nent as Mark Antony.

“I’d been in so many Shake­speare pro­duc­tions where the small-part play­ers were kind of dis­grun­tled be­cause they’re kind of bor­ing, those parts,” Wal­ter says. “But if you’ve got women be­ing al­lowed to do this stuff that they never get their hands on, the at­mos­phere was ex­cit­ing all the time. It sounds like a bit ide­al­is­tic, but it was true that ev­ery­one felt so grate­ful to be in­volved and to be al­lowed to do this stuff, it was like a great nov­elty.”

With her Royal Shake­speare Com­pany back­ground, Wal­ter is keenly aware of po­ten­tial dif­fer­ences in record­ing a play for later tele­vi­sion presentati­on. “It’s very difficult for ac­tors,” she rea­sons, “be­cause their duty is to act to the peo­ple who have paid the money and are sit­ting there. We’ve got to give them what they’ve paid for. But at the same time, it can look very ex­ag­ger­ated on screen when you have close-ups.

“This way, I liked it, be­cause you never lost the au­di­ence,” adds Wal­ter. “You can see it’s a the­atri­cal per­for­mance be­cause you al­ways see the au­di­ence, so that wasn’t a prob­lem. And we had to act with big en­ergy, be­cause that’s what the play de­mands. I wasn’t go­ing to kind of down­play it. You do ad­just, but I didn’t play for the cam­eras. I played for the au­di­ence in the room, and luck­ily, it wasn’t too big a con­flict.”

“Julius Cae­sar”

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