Power To The People: Shakespeare in the Park Makes a Momentous Return with “Julius Caesar”

2017 was a year Shakespeare aficionados could never forget: it was the only year Shakespeare in the Park could not be hosted due to the lack of funding. Instead, the Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT) sated the nation with its critically-acclaimed banner production Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress. 

First held in 1997 with Hamlet, Shakespeare in the Park has been a recurring production theatre-goers look forward to. Since then, the production has staged notable Shakespeare works such as Much Ado About Nothing (2009), Romeo and Juliet (2016), The Tempest (2015), and The Merchant of Venice (2014).

Explaining that the arts and entertainment scene has grown significantly since two decades ago, SRT’s Managing Director Charlotte Nors shares the challenges of keeping up with the times despite the huge financial commitment: “We have to be able to read the market, adapt, and move forward in a world that is so very content-rich – not least via digital entertainment options like YouTube and Netflix. We will do everything we can to keep the beloved tradition of Shakespeare in the Park alive… format, occurrence, and style may change – never our passion and commitment to making it happen.”

“As much as we missed producing it (Shakespeare in the Park) in 2017, we have to balance our resources and manage our risk,” she continued.

Although the crowdfunding goal of $100,000 has been successfully attained with its Save our Shakespeare campaign held last year, this year’s production would still be making a loss. Nevertheless, the non-profit organisation vows to bring back their largest production this year – and it seems like they are not holding back at all!

Here are 3 things you can expect SRT to be bringing to our (picnic) table this May with Julius Caesar:

1. Casting Jo Kukathas in the supreme role of Julius Caesar

The veteran Malaysian actress is set to play the titular role of the Roman politician, who has gained so much power that Brutus and Cassius are convinced that they have to conspire and kill Caesar for the Romans’ sake. Director Guy Unsworth explained that the intended contemporary setting of the play would make it seem “backward” to cast the figureheads as all male.

He said, “When casting, I became interested in who these people might be in today’s society, and indeed what their relationships are, and I think our casting reflects some very unique but appropriate choices. Jo Kukathas plays Caesar, a woman with supreme power in Rome. Whilst gender doesn’t feel so significant that a gender swap would be impossible, it’s the casual descriptions of a man’s world and Caesar’s power over men which seems to have a special resonance across the world today, bringing to the table for discussion the representation and role of women in power, and the attitudes from the public or, indeed, men.”

In fact, if the production had stayed true to the genders of the characters, there would only be 2 female parts and 45 male parts – talk about a nightmare casting call!

When asked if there were any initial doubts, Guy assured that there were not any. He added, “Jo and Julie (who plays Cassius) are superb actors and they are so convincing in their roles – I find it difficult to view the play any other way.”

2. A Modern Adaptation of the Shakespeare Classic

The audience could expect a modern context from the original text of the play, as the play’s political theme and exploration of the difference between the public and private image would now include the “press” and the “media” to play a large part in the storytelling: this means that there would be the use of live cameras, 24 television screens, video links, social media feeds, and news forecasts during the performance.

Guy tells us more about his vision for Julius Caesar: “All the material for this is written by Shakespeare, but the context is very different. It’s really fun, and I’m constantly surprised by how easily his words fit the media world… whether today’s argument is for single sustained leadership, or productive challenging through opposition, politicians’ desire to be at the top seems omnipresent. And whilst a great deal has changed since 44 BC or 1599, it is the cyclical nature of leadership which inevitably continues, and I think it’s this reason that Julius Caesar continues to be performed.”

3. An Epic Transformation of Fort Canning Park

With a fully designed view from every angle, the “360-degree design” set is one of the main highlights of Julius Caesar, as Guy teased that the audience could interact and even be a part of. A traditional backstage would also be absent for this production, allowing the audience to see the set as soon as they enter the park. He said: “As ever, the set is very large, but we have worked hard to create a space that can be theatrical as well as intimate. Lighting and special effects are integral, and will help frame this intriguing, pertinent, and timely story. Expect to see lots of theatrical flair and spectacular costumes.”

As Cassius puts it aptly, “the fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves,” there is no better way to explore the power of the elements than under the stars in Fort Canning Park.

Watch this year’s Shakespeare in the ParkJulius Caesar – before history repeats itself.

Julius Caesar

  • Date: 2 – 27 May 2018
  • Venue: Fort Canning Park

Tickets start at $45. For more information, visit http://www.srt.com.sg/show/juliuscaesar/

If you have already booked your tickets, you may want to find out more about preparing for your outdoor theatre experience with this nifty blog post prepared by SRT: http://www.srt.com.sg/article/enjoy-the-best-of-outdoor-theatre/

Visuals courtesy of Singapore Repertory Theatre.

Stacey Lim

Professional feminist and self-proclaimed emo queen (it is not a phase, mom). She also never fails to spend her birthday wishes on world peace and a global boycott on animal-tested products.

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