By Alix Norman
High on the cliffs, the Mediterranean washing the horizon, lies the ancient amphitheatre of Curium. Built in the second century BC, it's a setting so unique that it's still, to this day, used to host numerous events throughout the year. Chief of which lovers of the Bard, prepare is the much-awaited annual production from Shakespeare at Curium. Produced under the auspices of the Performing Arts for Cyprus Charities, this yearly performance brings together some of the island's best amateur (and ex-professional) thespians in a philanthropic endeavour designed to both delight audiences and raise money for a number of local charities. A worthy undertaking, the much-loved event is now in its 53rd year and has become an unmissable feature of the cultural calendar. And this year promises to be particularly fascinating, for this is a play that has never been previously presented: Julius Caesar.
"I think what's remarkable about Julius Caesar is that it's Shakespeare's most relevant play in terms of the masses," says Alexander Norcott, the young and yet fantastically accomplished director of the production. In his early twenties, Alexander is already a veteran of the theatre, who has not only performed in numerous Shakespeares at Curium himself, but whose credentials as a writer, actor and director would behove someone more than twice his age. And when it comes to understanding the work of the world's greatest playwright, his grasp of both sweeping fact and delicate nuance is astounding.
"If you look at Shakespeare's other plays, you will find things you can relate to," he says. "But Julius Caesar is a play about the people, about democracy, about how the people can influence their future and for this reason I feel it's a particularly topical production." A political drama, the script revolves around rebellion and tyranny; a study of the political elite and an analysis of ideological motive. It's a play that asks the audience to think, to question the inertia of history and inflexibility as regards political change and, as such, it's a choice that's particularly relevant not just to Cyprus, but also to much of the world.
"Julius Caesar is relatable to any political situation," says Alex. "And it's particularly interesting because neither of the two main factions Caesar himself, and the Conspirators who plot against him while representative of dictatorship and democracy, ultimately never really consider the people. Brutus, for example," he continues, "the tragic hero of the play, is an idealist who thinks of Rome not as home to thousands of people, but as an almost abstract idea. And it's a concept that's applicable to politics today," he adds, referencing the idea of politicians living an ideological fantasy in which they're out of touch with the needs and wants of the common man. It's a concept that's extremely pertinent, no matter where one lives in the world. And also, says Alex, no matter when. "Julius Caesar was written at the end of Elizabeth's reign, when there was the real worry that the lack of a leader would cause the realm to descend into anarchy. There was a lot of tension regarding her successor," he muses, "and like many modern day countries, people weren't allowed to openly protest or air their views. So the play becomes almost an allegory, Shakespeare's warning about impending civil war." And it's for this reason, perhaps, that the play is set in Rome: considered to be one of the greatest of all civilisations, Shakespeare may be counselling that if it can happen here, it can happen anywhere. "There are a lot of lessons to be learnt, I think, from Julius Caesar," says Alex. "Set in an almost flawless democracy a place of great wealth and efficiency this is a play which warns us not to be fickle, but to stick to our principles. It's almost a caution against division in the people," he says, "threatening us with the outcome of what will happen if we create an 'us-versus-them' situation." Alex has made a few subtle plot changes which highlight Shakespeare's take on historical and political inertia: "I've added an extra scene for Lucius who, as a servant, is perhaps most representative of the masses; I think it helps to emphasise Shakespeare's point that, no matter who emerges as the ultimate winner, nothing really changes for the common man," he explains.
In a play which relies heavily on dialogue and whose characters represent the stoicism of Rome, bringing the scenes to life has been challenging in many ways, Alex admits, and not just with respect to the conditions one experiences in staging an open-air production, such as the wind whistling down off the hills. But with his deft hand guiding a cast of highly experienced actors, there's little doubt that this year's performance will be one to remember.
Working in such a unique space has provided a host of advantages, he maintains: "It's set in Rome, and you're seeing actors in traditional Roman dress, surrounded by Greco-Roman architecture, making everything seem very fitting, very authentic. And the large space has allowed us to stage the play more creatively: to produce a sense of intimacy we've allowed the characters, at times, to be more physically static, drawing the eye to their presence, while at others, they go into the audience, immersing the watchers in the action. After all," he adds, "this is a play about the people."
For the people. Which means that, for the first time, you'll have the chance to enjoy one of history's finest literary creations in a place and at a time when it's possibly at its most topical. This year, viewers won't just be getting a great performance in a beautiful setting. They'll also be enjoying a timely and thought-provoking enactment that's as relevant today as it was in Shakespeare's time. Or Caesar's for that matter.
Shakespeare at Curium presents Julius Caesar Directed by Alex Norcott, on June 27, 28 and 29 at the Ancient Curium Amphitheatre. Curtain Up at 8pm. For reservations, call the Box Office on 99 990535 or email email@example.com. Tickets cost 5 for students and 15 for adults, and are available from SBA Hives Akrotiri & Episkopi, Kyriakou Bookshops Limassol and Paphos and the Friends Hospice Shops Paphos and Pissouri, as well as at the door on the night. Although only water is allowed in the theatre, the audience are encouraged to bring a picnic to enjoy in the nearby areas
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