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Caesar? I hardly know her: Playwrights set out to explode Shakespeare

Culture

La Boite is taking on one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest political thrillers by giving five female and non-binary playwrights one of five acts of Julius Caesar, with the directive to explode it from the inside out.

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CAESAR, which begins at the Roundhouse Theatre on the 17 July, is a response to Shakespeare’s political thriller, a historical account of political backstabbing, the corruptibility of power, and the instability of democracy in the face of greed.

In an innovative first, five female and non-binary playwrights, Claire Christian, Jean Tong, Megan Wilding, Merlynn Tong, and Zoey Dawson have been assigned one act each of the play with the direction to blow up the classic.

CAESAR Director and Creative Producer at La Boite, Sanja Simic, said each playwright has constructed a different response from within an agreed setting – which finds four actors and an assistant stage manager across the lifespan of a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, from rehearsals in Act I to the afterparty in Act V.

“We track the lifespan of this production of Julius Caesar and what the playwrights have done is transpose the events of the play onto that narrative arc,” Simić told InQueensland.

“It’s very meta. But it’s a good place from which to tackle the themes of Caesar that we are interested in from explorations of gender, to the role of theatre, to the role of duty and democracy,” she said.

Simić said that she wanted to resist a traditional adaptation of the play which she believes is deeply patriarchal, but instead use the material as a foundation for something innovative and playful.

“I think these heritage pieces have a place but I was not interested in doing a straight adaptation. I wanted to do something responsive with playwrights who have original voices and perspectives.

“There is no denying that Shakespeare is a good storyteller. The story of Julius Caesar is meaty and it’s violent and I wanted to use the narrative through line in Caesar as a baseline for something more innovative.”

La Boite’s production of Caesar (Image: Morgan Roberts)

The production aligns with La Boite’s wider strategic plan to become the most diverse theatre company in Australia by centring the representation of gender, First Nations, culturally and linguistically diverse, LGBTIQ+, deaf and/or disabled artists and their work.

“I think the key thing here is that we’re making space and providing platforms for voices that aren’t necessarily privileged in other contexts and institutions,” said Simić.

“La Boite has a very strong commitment to our vision and mission which is about diversifying theatre practice and representation on our stages. It’s about seeing and hearing stories that are being sidelined.”

La Boite’s Chief Executive Zohar Spatz said CAESAR is a necessary continuation of this mission to provoke dialogue.

“La Boite exists to push the boundaries of theatre and its form by collaborating with extraordinary people who enrich and diversify the narratives, practices and voice on Australia’s main stages, and this cutting-edge iteration of CAESAR is exactly that,” she said.

CAESAR begins at the Roundhouse Theatre on 17 July and runs until 7 August, for more information visit La Boite’s website. 

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