It Takes a Real Dame to Show Brutus' Force — Harriet Walter and Phyllida Lloyd Talk All-Female Julius Caesar

By Harry Haun
04 Nov 2013

Walter as Brutus
Photo by Helen Maybanks
"There's a nervousness about 'concept,'" cautioned Walter. "I don't know if that's the same over here, but, in England if you say you're setting something in a prison, there might be a few people who groan. It isn't just a 'concept' as a gimmick. It's an enhancement, if anything, of the play. The play is a great play, anyway — a flawed play, but a justifiably famous play — and it needs revisiting under different political situations every century, every decade, and in so many different countries. It's a great play, if used as a sounding board for what's going on in the present day.

"Shakespeare, as usual, using the facts of history to serve his message, seems to be saying if you supplanted a dictatorship there will always be a big mess and you may only replace it with a worse situation. That message is a difficult one to observe, because it's a very negative message. I think, as we understand what we understand of Shakespeare, that he kneeled in the room of law and believed in an ordered society, but he was a brilliant psychologist and master-minder of political motives."

All warehouses, whether here or abroad, evidently look the same — in their bleak blandness, like The Big House — with metal walkways and stairs for yard exercises, and garage doors that noisily roll open and shut for startling, backlit entrances.

"With St. Ann's, we have those upstage entrances we didn't have in London," remarked Lloyd. "The difference was that, in London, you felt you were stuck in a room with some dangerous women. The audience, I think, felt quite intimidated by being in quite a small space with those women. In Brooklyn, I think you feel more that the women are stuck in a kind of pit. There's a sort of gladiatorial feel about it."

Bounding about that jungle-gym type of set at high rates of speed would seem to invite hazard pay. "There is a certain amount of risk if you're running fast downstairs or sliding down a pole," conceded Walter, "and, with 14 people in a small space, there's a chance you might crash into one another at any given point. It's miraculous what few problems we've had. A lot of our rehearsal period was taken up with how to depict the crowd, how to keep the level of energy very urgent. We worked a lot with a movement director [Ann Yee] and a fight director [Kate Waters], but, of course, you can't prevent 100% accidents from happening. In general, women — especially in classical plays — aren't required to be very physically active."