Saturday, December 03, 2005

Theater Review : Julius Caesar at KLPAC

Duration : 2 December - 11 December 2005 Venue : Pentas 1 KLPac
Price : RM60 & RM40 (inclusive of RM2 ticket handling charge) 50% discount for students below 18 (Not applicable on promotional nights).

(KLPac) 4047 9000
(TAS@BSC) 2094 9400
This is my first attempt of reviewing a stage production so if I get the vocabulary of the convention wrong then I apologized in advance. I know that I was due for other reviews that I had planned but due to both time sensitive information and my immediate reaction to the production, I choose to present this review first before returning to the scheduled gap in blog entries.)

The theater and me have not exactly been the closest of friends. It is still hard for me not to automatically associate the local theater scene as the domain of the local artistic glitterati elite and not the uncultured plebian masses such as myself. However, once in a while, I am presented with the opportunity to partake the previously unreachable fruits of the local theater scene by sheer luck and fortune. When stars and such fates align, I actually get to go to the theater.

The last theater performance that I went to was a local musical production of “Rubiah” way back in 1999 so to say that I have not seen much of the local theater scene has to be a gross understatement. So when a fellow blogger friend of mine rang me up to tell me that he had extra tickets to see the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Center (KLPAC) presentation of William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, I unashamedly said yes to the offer. Not only was this a golden opportunity for me to view a local production of this great tale for the first time but it would also be my first opportunity to visit the KLPAC since it opened it’s doors to the public.

On the drive over, I was trying to recall anything that I could remember from the original text. I was fairly certain that the last time I read “Julius Caesar” was nearly 8 years ago so other than passing recollections of favorite moments from the story, I could not recall in details what happened in the other parts of the story. This meant that I would have the opportunity to enjoy the production as if I was reading the story for the first time all over again. Sadly that lack of recall would also limit my ability to appreciate how much was adapted and/or modified from original story to fit this production runtime of 90 minutes. Being the visually orientated person that I am, I do however have images from the story as I remembered them from my readings that I was looking forward to see how they were translated on stage in the performance.

Since we arrived about half an hour before opening curtains, we decided to hang around the KLPAC to soak in it’s ambience and to wait for the other members of our entourage to arrive. Personally I was looking for safety in numbers as I was fast becoming intimidated by the crowd that was gathering. I quickly found myself star struck and openly gawking at the celebrities that I recognized like the idiot that I must have looked to them. I’ve always been intimidated by the theater-going crowd who seemed to know each other by sight which made me feel more like the outsider pretending to fit into their world. This is actually true for any small or elite grouping that I find myself intruding into.

Fortunate to me that the moment that I stepped foot into the KLPAC, I felt like I was coming home to somewhere familiar. I’m not saying that I was having a Norma Desmond from “Sunset Boulevard” kind of moment when I entered the lobby of KLPAC but the physical surroundings reminded me of a typical US campus architecture that I found strangely comforting. Fond memories of my time studying in the States that still resonated positively further enhanced the comfort level that I felt in the KLPAC surroundings irregardless of the intimidating crowd around me.

When we went into the main auditorium to find our assigned seats, I was quite surprised to see how close the stage was to the audience. The first thing that came to my mind was how much better the theater going experience would be to be this intimate with the action that was being presented on stage. The only other theater that I have been to had a orchestra pit separating the stage from where the audience was sitting so it didn’t feel as inviting as this stage. Once we settle down in our seats, I was fully prepared to enjoy the rest of the night.

The KLPAC production of William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” was adapted and directed by Joe Hasham who is a very well know and respected name in the local performing arts. With his wife, Dato’ Faridah Merican acting as Executive Producer, they have adapted this classic tale of jealousy, conspiracy, intrigue and betrayals into a concise 90 minutes stage production that was to me a joy to surrender my senses to.

In the production program booklet, Hasham wrote that he was nigh unapologetic to the Shakespearian purist that he had to trim down the original text to fit his production. In this regard of the production, I would totally agree with him as “Julius Caesar” while was a great story had more than it’s share of scenes and sections that effectively grinded the flow of the story to a halt. I sincerely believed after watching the performance that Hasham has been true to the essence of the story and have successfully incorporated enough of the major components of it to tell the story of “Julius Caesar” as it was meant to be told.

Looking at the stage, I thought that the stage design was minimalist but effective for this presentation as it did not distract from the players of the story. The use of white as the primary color and sheer materials for the set dressing allowed for an additional canvass on which the lighting design could shine. For the most part, I thought that they did a good job of lighting the stage and the actors. Having said that, I am due pressed to point out some room for improvement for the light design team.

One would be during Caesar’s assassination scene with the use of strobe lighting to simulate slow motion on stage. I was looking forward to see how this would come on stage after reading about it as we entered the auditorium but somehow I felt that there was something a bit off in the execution of it. I don’t really know if it was the timing between the flashes of light or if it was the synchronizing of the action on stage but something felt disconnected between the planning and the execution. In my mind, I was expecting to see something akin to snapshots of what was happening on stage when the strobe lighting system was used instead of a slow motion pantomime. Or maybe it was just me who felt a little let down with the actual result.

Another portion of the show that I was surprise not to see the lighting design playing a more significant role was the interlude after Marc Antony’s speech and the next scene. As the story goes, civil war had erupted in Rome and there were fighting on the street. While the audience was told of this through the sounds of the battle/riots that reverb loudly around us in the auditorium, the stage was curiously and inexplicably left unlit for quite some time when common convention expected something happening on stage to match the sounds that the audience were hearing. I wasn’t sure at that point if the audience were meant to focus on the dark stage and immerse themselves in the surrounding soundscape or were we suppose to be watching something else off stage where the sounds we coming from. After watching other scenes brilliantly, both in the creative and physical sense, lit it was a bit bewildering to be presented with a dark stage without warning.

I am not well verse with the local theater scene to recognized the names in the cast other than Patrick Teoh who I know from his previous work on local radio, TV and films. His portrayal of Cassius was not only the first thing that attracted me to attend this performance but I humbly put as the core that held this production together. The story of “Julius Caesar” for me personally has always been more the story of Cassius the Instigator. As Cassius, Teoh was at time a little too subdued in his body movement per my expectation of the character but then again it might be intended as the character was not expected to be as smarmy as other Shakespearean villains. The matter of who was the actual villain of the piece was never telegraphed in the original work and neither did Teoh as he did it in his wonderful performance as Cassius.

The other character that I was looking forward to see in the production was Marc Antony. Of all the passages in the original text, Antony’s lament upon Caesar’s dead body has always been my favorite and the one that I was looking forward to see performed most of all. I have to be truthful that the first time I saw Gavin Yap on stage as Marc Antony, I was a bit distressed. Colored by past viewing of other portrayals of Antony, I was expecting someone more commending in stature for the role. When I first saw Yap’ Marc Antony on stage amidst the other players, I was struck by how physically small and unassuming he looked in comparison of the other characters.

Fortunately for him. Yap’s Marc Antony was neither small or unassuming vocally when things matters most. I admit that I was moved closed to tears in appreciation at his wonderful delivery of the speech to the Romans. His powerful and commanding voice, while sounded somewhat disconnected from his physical appearance, was exactly what the scene demanded and he delivered a stirring performance. At times I found myself fully immersed in the speech that I could easily be moved to respond to his exclamations had I remembered what the lines for the Roman mob in that scene were and if this was an audience participation theater. I have to say that if Gavin Yap was cast as Marc Antony for his commanding voice then this was a good casting call indeed though the same unfortunately, with no malice intended to this wonderful actor, could not be said of his physical presence on stage.

Rounding up the main cast were Ari Ratos (Brutus), Kennie Dowle (Caesar), Kurt Crocker (Casca), Samantha Schubert (Portia) and Clare Decic (Calipurnia) who all performed most splendidly with their material. No less important were the periphery characters as played by Roshan Narayan (Messala), Pavanjeet Singh (Metellus Cimber), Colin Kirton (Decius), Amsalan Doraisingam (Messala), Michael Chen (Lucius) and Calvyn Wong (Cinna).

The last remaining uncredited participant of this performance has to be the dynamic soundscape as produced by the team from Two AM Music Studios. I thoroughly enjoyed the immersive sound design that further enhanced the feeling of the immediacy of the action happening on stage. If there is a fault to be found in the execution of the sound design, I have to say that it was the tendency of the soundscape drowning out the beginning of the actor’s dialogue after some of the scene transitions that I found to be a bit distracting. Better coordination between the stage and the sound control booth could easily fix this oversight in future performances.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed myself on my night out at the theaters. The 90 minutes or so watching Joe Hasham’s production of William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” has definitely been one of the highlights of the year for me personally. The slick production value, dynamic sound design and commanding performances makes recommending a viewing of this production a forgone conclusion. It was definitely a joy to lend our ears to for a night so to speak.

1 comment:

patrickteoh said...

Hi there. Thank you for your review of your theatre experience at Julius Caesar. I am glad that you enjoyed yourself. Please do not ever feel intimidated in the presence of actors. We're all quite normal:-) Come up and say hello. We appreciate that and you will be surprised at the warm welcome you will encounter. Thank you for putting JC on your blog.