Affectionately known as "The Actor's Church", the 17th Century St Paul's Church in Covent Garden has, for the fifth consecutive year, opened its gates and intimate gardens to Iris Theatre's latest promenade performance, Julius Caesar.
Updating Shakespeare's portrayal of the 44BC conspiracy, assassination and defeat of the Roman dictator Julius Caesar at the Battle of Philippi, is always a challenge. For this is very much a period play with many historical references which may not adapt well unless handled sensitively. However, director Daniel Winder has managed to create an up to date and generally robust production boasting some strong performances.
Driven along by a contemporary soundtrack created by Filipe Gomes and Candida Caldicot, which includes Pendulem and The Smiths, this modernised, almost steam punk production is powerfully delivered on by a cast of just seven.
The audience are required to play the lesser roles, wearing masks to act as Romans standing judgement in the senate, being servants to pour wine and even rising up against Caesar with the conspirators. (Don't worry - this isn't full-on audience participation and you aren't expected to do anything except slip a mask on and chant and cheer now and then.)
Although the first couple of scenes feel a little disjointed, the cast (and audience) soon settle into their roles. David Hywel Baynes as Brutus is the stand-out, giving a powerful performance as Brutus, particularly in the second half. He successfully shows the struggle with his own conscience over what he has done and what he is about to do as well as the conflicting demands made on him and the burdens he has put on himself; between his love for his brother and friends and the love for his country.
Also worth mentioning is Daniel Hanna, who plays a brutish Casca and is particularly disturbing while bathing his hands in Caesar's blood. And it's a shame that Simon Kent, who plays three roles of Octavius, Lucius and the seriously freaky Soothsayer, does not get the chance to shine in a more central role.
All told, Julius Caesar is another strong showing from these promenade specialists. A recommended summer excursion.