This entertaining version of Julius Caesar combines slapstick bloodbaths with resonant, big ideas to create an evening that's both smart and fun — possibly too much fun if you need all your Shakespeare tragedies po-faced and earnest, but the rest of us can revel in literal gobs of gore accompanying political intrigue.
Spin doctors, skulduggery and the title character killed off before interval, Julius Caesar is an interesting ensemble piece about power struggles: it warns of the dangers of pre-emptive strikes and failing to plan for the aftermath of victory (see also: the 2003 Iraq invasion).
Upping the ante, the cast is gender-reversed with potent results ("She thinks too much. Such women are dangerous").
Donagh Rees is an elegant, commanding Caesar in a Hillary-Clinton pantsuit; perhaps like Shakespeare's Caesar, Clinton's political career was killed off because she was perceived to be too ambitious (a far greater fault, of course, in a woman).
Director Rita Stone has made some wonderful choices: Caesar's ghost pops up unexpectedly and Brutus' servant (Neenah Dekkers-Reihana) seems more like her surly, sleepy teenage daughter, complete with headphones (and a beautiful singing voice).
Less happily, the husbands wear rags and shackles, which makes their genuine love of their imprisoning wives less explicable, and battles with batons make little sense when we've witnessed knife frenzies. Still, riot shields in tortoise formation are a nice Roman shout-out.
Overall, the acting is good and the dialogue can be heard, although for the sake of the performers' voices, a few stage microphones wouldn't go amiss.
Bronwyn Ensor amuses as an unusually clueless Casca while Sheena Irving's Brutus is quietly tormented.
Jessie Lawrence (who has been reliably charismatic and expressive during the past year) is exceptional as Marc Antony, playing comic and powerful in turn, and giving the show perhaps its only moment of heart-wrenching grief.
Seated tickets start at $49; tickets for blood-soaked "groundlings" are $10. Recommended.
What: Julius Caesar
Where & when: Pop-Up Globe, Ellerslie Racecourse; until March 31
Reviewer: Janet McAllister