The Al Hayat Theatre ensemble gave a performance of Julius Caesar based in part on the Shakespearean play of the same name. The performance, which took place on 22 November on El Sawy Culturewheel’s talent-grabbing stage, was part of the Centre’s 8th Theatre festival.
The play unravels with a series of powerful scenes that succinctly tell the tale of Caesar’s assassination by a group of conspiring intimates in the name of freedom for Rome. It culminates in a twist: a scene where Shakespeare himself is summoned onto the stage by his characters. This medley between the serious and the humorous proves very entertaining, not to mention surprising.
A large part of the play follows Shakespeare’s text; featuring eloquent speech, palpable emotion and dramatic action, while the final scene represents director Ahmed Abdel Fattah’s witty twist. Deviating from the original storyline, Abdel Fattah beckons the talented Abdel Rahman Magdy as William Shakespeare onto the El Sawy Culturewheel stage, where he is amusingly badgered, and then tragically killed, by the characters he created.
Throughout the actors looked extremely comfortable on stage, taking minor mistakes in their stride. Meanwhile, the crowd boisterously applauded momentous performances, and roared with laughter at the closing mess. Distraught then overjoyed, the El Sawy Culturewheel audience rode an emotional roller-coaster.
While the lighting served the performance well, the music was confusing. Spotlights highlighted some key moments: Brutus as he contemplates the blood-spattered scene, the brutal assassination of Caesar and Anthony’s agony over his friend’s death.
The music, selected by Nader Mostafa, was not as cooperative though. Songs overlapped with monologues as Shakespeare mapped out his plot from the corner of the stage, and Brutus’ contemplated the looming plot. Playing Brutus, Mohammed Mabruk skillfully conveyed the conflicts within his conscience through laboured movements and a constricted visage, rendering both recorder monologue and music unnecessary, to say the least.
The liveliest of the leads by far was Adel Abdel Razik as Anthony, who flaunted an irrevocable air of confidence. Anthony’s “Brutus is an honourable man” speech was so moving it infects you with the character’s rage and grief.
Playing Caesar, Hossam El Din belted out words, yet his performance was, to a great extent, bereft of passion. He is most effective when he escaped from his coffin, flicking it off (as a spotlight tumbles off stage to the audience’s delight) to join Shakespeare and the rest of the cast on stage for an episode of non-stop humour.
The play was a low-budget production, yet it was not left under-served. The set, designed by Maram Hassan and Nader Mostafa, was situated in a typical Roman landscape.
The performance was short and swift, yet packed with tragedy -courtesy of Shakespeare’s original text - as well as comedy -courtesy of Al Hayat’s production. It was hard however to decide which trend the costume design tried to follow. The ridiculously high hemlines the noblemen wore and the unstructured (sometimes glittery) clothes of Brutus and Caesar perhaps played a visual role in this dark comedy.
All the while, freedom prevailed as the undercurrent theme. It was the reason why Shakespeare decided that Caesar, the dictator, should be killed for the sake of freedom for Rome and the reason why director Ahmed Abdel Fattah decided that Shakespeare, the ultimate dictator, should die.
“Once a ruler steps on his people’s freedom, the consequences should be stark,” Abdel Fattah told Ahram Online. “In a metaphorical sense, Shakespeare toys with his characters, eliminating their freedom completely by prescribing their fates, without referring back to them.”
The rendition was both an explanatory and amusing introduction to “Julius Caesar” for those who do not know more than the play’s tag-line - “Et tu, Brute?” (Even you, Brutus?). In the Al Hayat Theatre ensemble play, the famous line was yelled out by Shakespeare in colloquial Arabic in the midst of the final scene’s hiatus instead of being Caesar’s final words.
Abdel Fattah brought Shakespeare on as the epitome of dictatorship. Once Shakespeare reiterated his control, declaring that he is the playwright and refused to be badgered with questions from his cast - they find that the only way for them to find emancipation is through killing him.
Paying tribute to the Master of Arab Theatre, Youssef Wahby, El Sawy Culturewheel’s 8th Theatre festival took place between the 19 and 23 November. The Ambassador of Hell, Youssef Wahby’s adaptation of Faust by Goethe, took first place. Another play by Youssef Wahby, The Offspring of the Poor, came in second, while Al Hayat’s rendition of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar was placed third at the Theatre festival.