Upintheair's Revolver Festival of Independent Theatre wraps up its first week today at The Cultch. Yesterday I cycled over to take in a matinee of Caezr: 33 Cuts, by Human Theatre Collective (HTC).
An adaptation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, the devised work is set in the near future, with Canada fractured along regional lines (Quebec has finally separated) and facing a run on natural resources and energy supplies. Having successfully deposed the elected government of Cascadia, the corporate triumvirate of Julius (a suitably stentorian Jordon Navratil), Cassius (Nick Preston), and Brutus (Fojan Nixie Shabrang) agree on a plan to consolidate power and dupe the citizens into investing (quite literally) in their manufactured crisis. But when Julius starts enjoying the adulation of the crowds (Victoria Lyons and Tami Knight, forming a perfectly in sync chorus) and exercising a bit too much doit de seigneur for their liking, Cassius and Brutus, together with their fellow conspirator Casca (Randall vanderEnde), hatch a plot to bring Julius down.
Interestingly, the machinations of Cassius, Brutus and Casca are lifted directly from Shakespeare, with Preston and Shabrang especially showing great facility with the Bard's verse. While the speeches certainly work within the context of the piece's updated plot, and serve to foreground the vexed moral and ideological position of Brutus in particular, it's not clear to me why these sections weren't also adapted into the contemporary prose used throughout the rest of the play. A third verbal register is comprised of autobiographical address, with each cast member at a certain point stepping out of their role to speak directly to the audience about an aspect of their individual life stories that collectively add up to a portrait of the people versus institutional orthodoxy.
Layered on top of all of this, there is also a physical score, no doubt influenced by the Viewpoints training that several members of HTC have, I know, undertaken. When the collective is moving together and the physical score supports the words/story in recognizably illustrative displays of shape, gesture and spatial relationship (as when, at the beginning, Lyons hands each of her fellow company members an apple and they place the fruit between their index and pinky fingers on their left hands), then this compositional element can be quite beguiling. However, for too much of the piece, which takes place on an otherwise bare stage, with no exits or entrances, movement seems mostly to be a way to punctuate speeches. Consequently, there is so much to-ing and fro-ing of characters between upstage and downstage that one starts to think of a chessboard.
Which may not be a bad metaphor for the various maneuverings of power and politics being enacted in this work.
The Revolver Festival continues through next Sunday, May 25th. There is a lot more exciting new work to see.