Shakespeare In The Park: SRT’s Julius Caesar Sums Up Everything That’s Wrong With The World Today

In what is per­haps the ulti­mate show of life imi­tat­ing art, our pic­nic under the stars at Fort Can­ning was met with threat­en­ing bolts of light­ning and omi­nous clouds, just as the unfold­ing of Julius Cae­sar entered the icon­ic storm scene in the first Act.

For those unfa­mil­iar with the plot, spoil­er alert (and more to come): Cae­sar had just defeat­ed the rival troops of Pom­pey, and he is wel­comed back to a scene of cheer­ing cit­i­zens at R.O.M.E. to be crowned king. But as the nasty weath­er por­tends, things would quick­ly turn sour at the hands of polit­i­cal con­spir­a­tor Cas­sius – and com­plic­it­ly, Bru­tus – who hatch­es an assas­si­na­tion plot to rid of the dic­ta­tor­ship that is Cae­sar.

The real spoil­er here, how­ev­er, is not the above lit­er­a­ture les­son on Shake­speare sto­ry­telling. It is the stark remem­brance that every day, we have to live with the unset­tling uncer­tain­ties of polit­i­cal tur­moil and dig­i­tal spread of mis­in­for­ma­tion, as under­lined by Sin­ga­pore Reper­to­ry Theatre’s (SRT) mod­ern adap­ta­tion of Julius Cae­sar.

So it is fit­ting that on SRT’s return this year, it opt­ed for a polit­i­cal thriller to be staged.

After a one year hia­tus due to flag­ging bud­get, the Shake­speare In The Park pro­duc­tion has been brought back to much fan­fare to the cred­it of Save Our Shake­speare crowd fun­ders and staunch SRT sup­port­ers. It promis­es a spec­tac­u­lar per­for­mance while you lay down your pic­nic mats, sip on a glass of cham­pagne and unteth­er from the real world. From there, the assem­bly of world lead­ers of the fic­ti­tious R.O.M.E. (inspired by today’s G7, Unit­ed Nations and ASEAN) would take over and charm-offend you into a bloody world of ugly ambi­tions, shrewd manip­u­la­tions and messy pol­i­tick­ing.

Then again, isn’t this is a sto­ry that we already know so well, with or with­out lit­er­a­ture lessons? This is why.

Politi­cians? They’re Not Who You Think They Are.

Many scenes from the per­for­mance flit between the char­ac­ters’ pri­vate suites and the pub­lic are­na. From there, we often see an inter­nal strug­gle of the self being played out. Cae­sar, believ­ing her­self (yes, it’s a her, more on that below) to be as infal­li­ble as the cit­i­zens deem her to be, sol­diers on to a cer­tain death at the con­spir­a­tors’ meet­ing despite being plead­ed by Calpur­nia to stay home.

Bru­tus (played by Ghafir Akbar), believ­ing him­self to be Mr Hon­our, Dig­ni­ty and Virtue, par­tic­i­pates in the assas­si­na­tion for the bet­ter­ment of Rome, despite enjoy­ing a close per­son­al friend­ship with Cae­sar.

When we think about all the impeach­able wrong­do­ings, cor­rup­tion, scan­dals, fam­i­ly squab­bles and un-pres­i­dent-like tweets that have besmirched world lead­ers and min­is­ters in today’s con­text – high­ly esteemed men and women that the peo­ple have put good faith in – ‘what you see is not what you get’ has nev­er rang truer.

The Social Media Plague

Kudos to SRT, for clev­er­ly weav­ing in the press in place of R.O.M.E. ple­beians, along with the strip of LED screen on set for spo­radic ‘break­ing news’ seg­ments. In terms of the mise en scene, it is ‘mod­ern adap­ta­tion’ done right, to bring out the grav­i­ty of the polit­i­cal cli­mate. In terms of the rhetoric, it is hard to ignore the fact that we, not unlike the R.O.M.E. peo­ple, are being assailed by a scourge of sen­sa­tion­alised news and dis­tort­ed truths online to sway pub­lic sen­ti­ments.

Pow­er Trip

Pow­er tends to cor­rupt, and absolute pow­er cor­rupts absolute­ly. We’ll nev­er find out if that holds up for Cae­sar, who gets slaugh­tered some­what ear­ly in the play. But we did find out the true selves of Cas­sius and co and what they real­ly stood for: ambi­tion, greed, trea­son and pow­er.

While there is noth­ing inher­ent­ly wrong with the idea of ambi­tion to fur­ther one’s stand­ing in life, it is the means of exe­cu­tion, as well as the result­ing pow­er abuse upon suc­cess, that mod­ern day lead­ers can’t seem to resist. Depend­ing on who you look at – pres­i­dents, ex-pres­i­dents, ora­tors, big time pro­duc­ers, famous celebri­ties – it man­i­fests itself in dif­fer­ent forms. And in their down­fall, there is real­ly no fault in the stars but in them­selves.

Female Rep­re­sen­ta­tion

In a bold move by SRT, the tit­u­lar char­ac­ter in Julius Cae­sar is played by a female cast. Jo Kukathas, who is an actor, writer and direc­tor of The Instant Café The­atre Com­pa­ny in KL, repris­es the role remark­ably. Yet, we can’t help but feel the full brunt of the irony.

When it comes to the polit­i­cal stage or the media sphere, women are no longer afraid to speak up and they are wield­ing a greater voice like nev­er before – thanks to recent devel­op­ments in the empow­er­ment dri­ve. But like we said, Cae­sar gets killed rather quick­ly. That ‘greater voice’ gets snuffed out fast. It prompts the ques­tion: in the move­ment to gain even more ground over gen­der stereo­types and attain a posi­tion of pow­er, is that a mes­sage that women are only being put back in their place after all?

Catch ‘Shake­speare in the Park — Julius Cae­sar’ at Fort Can­ning Park, which runs from now till 27 May 2018. The per­for­mance begins at 7.30pm.

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