By: Victoria Tay
Director Guy Unsworth on the nature of heroes and villains on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar
Published on 27 April 2018
The visionary British director shares his thoughts on this modern day re-imagining of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The play marks the return of the highly-popular Shakespeare in the Park series, presented by the Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT).
Guy Unsworth has always loved the theatre, since his secondary school drama club days where he dabbled with being an actor. From sets to costumes, he loved being able to explore other worlds by stepping into someone else’s shoes, even if it was just for a moment.
Hit by the theatre bug
“So… how come you graduated in Industrial Economics?” I sputter, admitting to my social-media stalking ways. He laughs a little sheepishly. “To be honest, I did it to please my parents. But there was a student-run theatre at the University of Nottingham, and it was there that the idea that I could be a director really took off.”
And since then, Guy’s career has seen him helming productions with the Royal Shakespeare Company and several plays on the West End such as cult hit ‘Cool Rider’, the musical sequel to the popular ‘Grease’ movie starring John Travolta.
This love for the stage has taken him all over the world. In fact, Julius Caesar will be his second production in Singapore, with the first being ‘Hand to God’ in 2017, a comedic play about how troubled teen Jason is forced to join his mother’s Sunday School puppetry group to cope with the loss of his father. That play was also presented by the SRT.
Julius Caesar was two-and-a-half years in the making
Discussions around Julius Caesar began in 2016when Guy first met Gaurav Kripalani, SRT’s Artistic Director. They both loved the play and wanted to produce a show in Singapore but did not know how to contextualise it for the modern day. One year later, while Guy was preparing for ‘Hand to God’, the idea came to him. He’d heard reports of the G7 summit and knew that a fictionalised “U.N.” would be the perfect contemporary setting for the play.
“I wanted to make a production that would not only resonate with Singaporeans but also make a global impact. That was always on my mind – how do I make a production that everyone could relate to? I couldn’t answer that until I was watching all the news about the G7 talks, and I knew that was my answer. I wanted to do a production that had an international impact on a global scale.”
The set of Julius Caesar is the most ambitious that SRT has ever attempted. It’s 360 degrees.
The entrance to the production itself is the gateway into R.O.M.E. 7 – the fictional summit in which the production takes place. Unlike previous productions, the set is fully immersive.
“I wanted the audience to literally feel like they are a part of R.O.M.E. 7 and privy to what was happening. I’m so used to building things with established proportions that it was rather daunting yet freeing to create literally anything we wanted. When I was discussing it with Richard Kent, our set designer, we talked about the idea of multiple screens. Everyone is constantly switching from screen to screen, scrolling through different feeds – news feeds, social media updates, viral videos. It’s a multi-media feast and I wanted to capture that. So this year, along with the stage, we’ve got two live cameras and 24 screens to project viral videos and even our own social media feed to lend authenticity to the world of R.O.M.E. 7.
“There is no backstage this year. We built a set that is a 360-degree experience. I wanted to break the idea of what a traditional stage was. As they say, the world is a stage.”
The Julius Caesar set is a 360 degree sculpture that can be viewed from every direction! A team of over a hundred was involved in building the set and fixing up the lighting and sound system, to make our staging of Julius Caesar TRULY EPIC! Get your tickets now for Shakespeare in the Park and come early, as you’ll be able to walk through the set! • Get your tickets for Shakespeare in the Park – Julius Caesar to be part of Singapore’s largest outdoor theatrical event. 2 – 27 May 2018 at Fort Canning Park. #srtjuliuscaesar #speakstrikeredress #thinkoftheworld #shakespeare #shakespeareinthepark
Playing on manipulation of power and stereotypes.
By now, I’ve realised that Guy Unsworth is not someone you can pigeonhole. A versatile director, he loves the idea of challenging perceptions. To him, there are no pure heroes or villains.
“Everyone is sort of both, and that’s what I want to show in this production – that everyone is fighting for what’s good for themselves. Julius Caesar is a not a political play. At its heart, it’s a play about the great relationships between all of these men, who are each fighting for what they think is the good of R.O.M.E. 7. Definitions of what’s good or bad is left up to the audience.”
“The big takeaway for me is the cyclical nature of power. As soon as someone has it, someone else is already clamouring to steal it.” says Guy emphatically. “Julius Caesar is a play about what honour is, and to me, honour is reputation. Your public image is your honour, and that can be incredibly debilitating.”
“Why?” I prod.
“Well, everyone wants to uphold their reputation. In the play, they talk a lot about what it is to be Roman, but what that is, is different to everybody. They all have their own perceptions, and that can be dangerous because now you’ve got pride. Therefore, when a leadership is at stake, it becomes personal to many people because you feel responsible for your community.”
“So do you think patriotism is bad?” I say.
Guy takes a moment to mull over this thought. “No, there is a strength in patriotism because you get a sense of community, and a unified community is strong…”
“But you can see how these people are driven to extremes such as murder, because they feel that their reputation is at stake. That’s why I feel like Julius Caesar is such a relevant play for our times. Shakespeare was obsessed with what the public saw, versus what was going on behind closed doors. With the rise of social media, we think that we’re in control of what we see, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re so affected by what the press, or even a random stranger on the internet tells us. We’re so fickle, and that’s not unlike the crowd’s reactions in the play.”
Julius Caesar is a play for our times
It was thought to be 1599 when Shakespeare first wrote Julius Caesar, and during this time, the people of Britain were worried that a civil war was pending as the aging Queen Elizabeth refused to name a successor.
“I think with Julius Caesar, Shakespeare wanted to reflect those anxieties, and I think that these worries are pertinent today because of all the changes the world is going through with Brexit, the election of Trump, the situation in Syria and North Korea. You feel on edge because of all these shifts in power.”
For those who are unsure about Shakespeare, Guy assures that everyone will feel right at home precisely because Julius Caesar is timeless in its questioning of truth and deceit, heroes and villains.
Shakespeare in the Park – Julius Caesar will be staging nightly performances from 2 – 27 May at 7.30 pm.