Thursday, September 21

Julius Caesar – Royden Park

All Hail Hillbark! Electrifying!

It’s the time of year we sit out on a beautiful evening in Royden Park, to be entertained by Hillbark Players’ bi-annual, open-air production. Julius Caesar, performed by the crème de la crème of Wirral actors, opened tonight with sunshine and blue skies: thankfully, no thunder and lightning but it was definitely an electrifying production!

If you’re thinking it’s a stuffy play with old men in togas – think again!  I’m not one for over doing the superlatives but I just might run out of them tonight. Directors, Ruth Stenhouse and Stuart Rathe skillfully brought this political drama to life with imaginative ensemble work, creative use of sets, eye-catching costumes, although ‘modern’ still had the Romanesque twist, and compelling performances, from not only the main characters but also the versatile and well-choreographed company.

This is an accessible and dynamic interpretation of the text and will certainly be well appreciated by teachers and students. Tonight’s audience was captivated.  Inspired by some national productions, but definitely giving it their own stylistic flair, Stenhouse & Rathe made sure this was a fluid, pacy delivery that kept us on the edge of our seats. There were some little touches of pure magic in the detailing – but no spoilers!

Yes, there are parallels to current politics – the recurring theme of ‘knives out’ and toppling careers-   but this narrative gives clarity to the story of Caesar’s betrayal: conspiracy, treachery and deception played out in rhetoric and blood.

The cast turned in superb performances, worthy of the word ‘professional.’ Charles Riley (Caesar) had the power and stance of a great leader, placing his words and expressions with intent. Caroline Watkinson, glamourous as his wife (Calpurnia) delivered her dream with vigor. They both looked resplendent in their costumes. Adam Stubbs (Brutus) really got the measure of the man: principled, honorable; delivered with a richness of tone that made you listen to his every word. His final scenes with Cassius were very moving. Jonathan McGrath (Mark Antony) had intelligence, a nimble agility to his movement that matched his eloquence and irony. Strong performances too from Alex Wharton as the fated Portia, Ticki Clark as the faithful Lucius and Pauline Garland as the quite mesmerizing soothsayer. Beware the Ides of March!  The list could go on… Callum Sim (Octavius) Rob Kavanagh (Trebonius) Jason Gallantry (Casca) all delivered with energy and purpose.

But it was Charlotte Cumming as Caius Cassius, who gave the standout performance of the night. This was truly an impeccable, meticulous portrait of a character. Not only did she look striking as the strong-minded, shrewd ringleader but her presence was magnetic; we were drawn into her, held by every word. She masterfully owned the language and commanded the arena. The sheer brilliance in her understanding of the character continued in the second half of play, when Cassius knows she is defeated, Cumming’s whole physicality and expression changed and the relationship with Brutus felt absolutely real.  Exceptional! A performance that will stay with me a long time.

There were no weak links in this cast- all the ensemble worked so hard. Well done to Simon Garland, Trevor Butlin, Adrian Davies, Carys cooper, Jemma Brown, Shannon McMullan, Chris Haws and a few of the production staff who were part of some of the scenes (?) Also to the singers, Tia Gill and Nick Hawkswell for giving some real energy to the great opening party sequence (again no spoilers! )

 The impressive set was well designed with lots of levels and entrances, giving plenty of opportunities for tableau and movement. Congratulations to the set building team, the very hard-working wardrobe department and the technical crew for lighting and sound. The soundscape was particularly atmospheric and distinctive. This was a true team effort!

In twenty years of seeing Hillbark productions, surely this is one of their best – All hail Hillbark!

Don’t take my word for it – Go see it! It runs until Saturday. You may think Shakespeare’s not for you, but I never imagined I would say this of ‘Julius Caesar’- The best show I’ve seen all year!

Playing until 24th June,

Reviewer: Bev Clark

Reviewed: 19th June 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.