Hail, Caesar!

Caesar and Cleopatra, by G. B. SHAW (April 4th. 5th, 6th 1955)

Caesar D. M. PARFITT
Cleopatra S. G. LINSTEAD
Ftatateeta E. C. WRAGG
Pothinus D. J. H. SENIOR
Theodotus A. M. SUGGATE
Achillas J. BUCHAN
Rufio A. E. GRANT
Britannus D. BARRON
Lucius Septimius K. JACKSON
Apollodorus N. G. WELLINGS
Centurion C. J. BELK
Sentinel M. R. EVISON
Priest J. MILLER
Soldiers, Slaves, Courtiers, Porter, Etc.  

Produced by Mr. G. H. CLAYPOLE

After last year's Macbeth . . . (I have tried had to suppress this phrase, but it won't lie down). After last year's Macbeth, which very properly demonstrated the advantages of doing Shakespeare on a more-or-less Shakespearean stage, the Dramatic Society's treatment, on similar lines, of Shaw's most spectacular play, was awaited with ... curiosity, anyway. It would have been difficult to find a play more solidly, not to say ponderously, based on the methods and assumptions of the four-square realistic proscenium-stage. Everything that is mentioned (and exhaustively described in the stage directions) is intended to be palpable and visible; hardly a word of the dialogue is aimed at supplying that "scene-painting by ear" which is the justification, and the joy, of non-representational theatre. The challenge of these conditions, however, was boldly accepted; nothing was evaded; the play, it turned out, was to be given with all the works, on what was virtually a picture-stage minus a front curtain.

In these circumstances, much credit may justly go to the craftsmen who performed prodigious feats of sculpture, architecture and engineering; also to the nimble and well-trained slaves who caused these substantial pageants to dissolve before our eyes, leaving no, or very little, rack behind. (Much more fun for the audience, of course, than sitting through intervals in the dark.) Lighting had been lavishly reinforced and the more crowded scenes made a brave show, in which the shape and dimensions of the wide-open stage were used to good advantage. In the more sparsely filled scenes, one was somewhat too conscious of the makeshifts and contrivances which our beloved but temperamental Assembly Hall necessitates.

Amid all this (involving considerable strains on credulity and illusion) the individual acting varied from satisfactory to fair. But there was never any doubt about the all-over impression of intelligent and spirited attack; and there were no cases of inattention or eye-wandering (all too easy faults where there are so many people "standing about"). Confident and audible speech was a general virtue; masking and back-turning the most prevalent faults. One or two scenes tended to drift, through lack of timing and climax, and there was rarely (twice actually) a taut and significant group. Second and third nights brought improved pace and edge; but audiences should not be allowed to form the habit of avoiding first nights. A forthright Rufio, a sinister Pothinus, a tetchy Theodotus, a pea-cocky Apollodorus, and a formidable Ftatateeta, contributed recognisable character studies, and the Roman army had the situation well under control. Above all, the two long and testing star-roles were in good hands. Parfitt's Caesar was admirable in voice and presence, if a little short of humour and flexibility; and one was grateful for Linstead's unabashed and witty approach to the gipsy queen; he was never either embarrassed or embarrassing-which is much.

On a rough estimate, at least sixty people (not counting the late G. B. Shaw) contributed to the occasion, so the claims of "corporate activity" were amply satisfied. To the benign and imperturbable director of this multifarious enterprise (and also to Mrs. Claypole) congratulations and thanks are due for a well-organised and entertaining show.

E. F. W.