Went to see GB Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Stratford Festival on Wednesday night, and it was delightful. Shaw’s take on the story is part farce, part drama and very funny. There are easy lines to be drawn from the relationship in this play between Caesar and Cleopatra and the later, some would say more mature relationship, between Eliza and Higgens.
Christopher Plummer returns to the festival as Caesar, whom he plays with an intimacy and warmth. He had people hanging on his words and laughing and there were some women who seemed ready to storm the stage or throw panties at the end (though I think they were hoping he’d take them away into the mountains with him and his singing children). It was a thrill to see him in person – I wanted to have a scotch with him.
As an extra treat, Peter Donaldson was also in the cast – one of my Stratford favorites – and as Caesar’s friend and “son”, he was a great foil to Plummer. There seemed to be a genuine comradery between the two in their scenes together.
Some of the biggest laughs, though, were reserved for Steven Sutcliffe as Brittanus – a “British barbarian” captured by Caesar who has now become his pet fop. Sutcliffe plays him with effeminate and condescending glee, and there were times when the audience was laughing so hard that we missed a few lines of dialogue.
And finally, I think there’s a real discovery in Nikki M. James. From the play notes, it looks like Director Des McAnuff knew her from a production of The Wiz that he directed in San Diego. When the play opens, Caesar finds a headstrong and diva-child of 16. James pulls off a mix of sensuality, precocity and budding imperiousness from there to the end of the play. And for someone who seems still new to the stage, her delivery is quite good. No shrieky pomposity for her. Plus the damn girl is beautiful.
There weren’t really any weak links in the main characters – , but there were a few secondary characters who are of the “yell and spit on the stage” variety. Even still, they didn’t take away from the entertainment value.
The direction was superb, as was the set. McAnuff played up the farce well, and moved with a light touch on the more dramatic scenes. (And there’s some naked people. You should have heard the blue hairs tittering over that.) The sets managed to convey the grandeur of a palace and even a huge ship – kudos to Robert Brill. One of the coolest effects was a human one though. They had actors dressed as egyptian statues of the gods and they came out on the stage and assumed poses and stayed frozen like that. As the play opened, there was a statue center stage – no one realized it was a person until he disappeared through the floor and made a gesture (got spontaneous applause for that).
Anyway, this is the first Stratford review from me in a long time that is pretty much only positive – there still some time to buy tickets, and I’d totally recommend it.