16/09/2021 - 14:00

ARTS REVIEW - Promise aplenty from WAAPA acting students

16/09/2021 - 14:00

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WAAPA’s third year students show plenty of potential in Humphrey Bower’s take on Julius Caeser, writes Rita Clarke.

Briana McGeary (as Octavius Casear) and ‘Ana Ika (as Mark Antony). Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

Julius Caesar, Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) Acting ·
Subiaco Arts Centre, 14 September 2021 ·

It’s a shame Caesar is killed off pretty quickly in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar because actor Raj Labade has the command and physique suited to Shakespearean heroes and his presence was missed after his demise. His slight swagger, forceful stare and only too-human petulance nailed his character.

This production from WAAPA’s (Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts) third year acting students is strong at its core and has some excellent moments, particularly in the second half but some might find it hard to agree with director Humphrey Bower’s choice of making the assassins overtly sinister. This play is full of intellectual substance and fine oratory and it seems a waste of acting to over-act in this manner. However, the overemphasis on physically ugly stances and facial contortions did make some of the audience laugh at the performance viewed.

From the start Shakespeare conjures up, with his usual craftsmanship, the disparate emotions existing in Rome and when the actors dash down and shout their adulation of Caesar from the aisles, the audience is immediately thrown into the turbulence. It’s an exciting and well performed opening. On stage, listening to the crowds, stand tribunes Flavius (Hannah Penman) and Murellus (Emelia Corlett) who leave us in no doubt that they abhor the sentiments of this fickle mob. Thus the stage is set for the conflict.

The set (Emily Chong) is sparse with three side-lined ruined columns, a two-tiered dais and two percussionists/composers (Joey Eng and Steve Hartley) who admirably aid and abet the shenanigans on stage, aided by the sound design of Connor Brown. Georgia Beswick’s lighting stylishly enhances the dramatic murder and muscular, armoured battles.

Soon after Caesar’s triumphant procession Cassius (Angelica Lockyer) and Brutus (George Vickers-Willis) stand on stage – as later will Mark Antony (‘Ana Ika) – to speak the speech that Shakespeare gives them to explore the power of oratory; of which we have had many examples over the last centuries.

Lockyer ably gives the speech on the enigma of power, in which Caesar is described as merely mortal yet a “Colossus”. This is the fulcrum that sets in stone the bitter dislike Cassius and followers have for Caesar.  Lockyer got better and better at grumbling and maligning as the play progressed.

In being brought round to Cassius’ viewpoint that Caesar seeks to be crowned and destroy the republic, Vickers-Willis’s Brutus was underpowered and awkward at first but he too claimed the part in the second half, particularly in his moving soliloquy when he achieved the nobility ascribed to him.

Most of the students play (well) several parts and Tim Ogborne as Casca, (and Plebeian and Lucilius) has an easy and likeable stage presence which hints at good things to come for him.

Briana McGeary as Calpurnia (and later Octavius) and Abbey Morgan as Portia are urgent and convincing as the wiser but unheeded wives, and make you wish that Shakespeare had given them more to say and perhaps that Portia could have ended up with Mark Antony.

Ika was a flesh and blood and impressive Antony but I wanted her to slow down in the funeral oration to give more power to the clever manipulation of words; to more definitively explore the combination of self-interest and noble-minded anger that was manifest. She was certainly equal to the rhetoric but a more subtle variation in tone and pace would have added manna to her great performance.

In fact though enjoyable, a bit more subtlety in several places and more heroic grace all round would have afforded even more pleasures to recall.

Nonetheless it’s always a treat to catch the stars-to-be in a WAAPA production and a Shakespeare performance is rare these days so here’s your chance to indulge in both.

Julius Caeser plays Subiaco Arts Centre until 18 September 2021.

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