At last critics of the Dramatic Society have got what they have been clamouring for, a real, genuine Shakespeare play on the School stage. One great advantage of producing a play that has already become famous is that the audience, or at least the Shakespeare students in it, will imagine what ought to be happen-ing when the production is weak and boring. There is too great a likelihood of the play sustaining the actors rather than the actors making the play, and this is exactly what happened in the production of Julius Caesar, which contained some of the best and some of the worst acting I have seen in the Dramatic Society.
Mr. G. E. Bence tackled the problem of production skilfully, for the play ran smoothly, without any unpleasant pauses. The best methods of modern shakesperian production were used: tile back-cloth of trees took the audience swiftly from house to ramp, easily portable scenery was moved by attendants before the audience, and more substantial changes were made in a black-out to avoid the fatal error of delaying the action by drawing the main curtains. The positioning of characters was carefully prepared, if we neglect Brutus's urge in the early scenes to look for an imaginary needle on the floor in the wings; when many actors were on the stage together there was no masking and no confusion as to where to go. The crowd of soldiers, citizens and attendants was well managed and attentive, knowing always how to react to events of the play, and they provided a vital background to the production. Music and effects by J.L. Pritchard greatly added to the atmosphere, and showed a marked improvement. There was, however, one irritating fault common to almost everyone: the unnatural position of the bent arm round the toga.
The scenery, by Messrs. Brobyn, Fortey, and Wood, was simple yet entirely satisfying and original. Throughout the first part of the play the stage was divided into various levels, so enabling many People to be present together. The setting for the battle of Philippi was exactly what was needed. Then there was a wonderful table with intriguingly carved and painted legs! Lighting as usual was good, especially in the terrifrying storm scene with its vivid flashes of lightning. Members of the Parents' Association had made the excellent costumes.
Unfortunately, there were only two completely satisfactory leading actors: F.M.L. Smith as Marcus Antonius, and M.N. Fullagar as Marcus Brutus. Both understood the words they were speaking and grasped the exact significance of their parts, and with both of them the audience was able to hear the poetry and feel the emotions arising from it. Antony spoke authorita-tively with perfect diction so that every word could be heard; he paused where appropriate, and never rushed a sentence. His stance, too, was free and natural yet always noble, and he even mastered the way to hold the toga with his arm. F.M.L. Smith gave probably the most effective performance I have seen by a member of the Dramatic Society, and part at least of his success arose from his complete self-confidence.
M.N. Fullagar as Brutus gave a very different interpretation, for he attempted to emphasise the tragic element by greatly varying the pitch of his voice and the speed of his words, though never obscuring the form of the verse he was speaking. It was an ambitious approach that could have been disastrous, but he had sufficient ability to make it successful. Brutus was shown as one more worthy than a bloody murderer; incited by Cassius and having no active hatred of Caesar, he realised the grimness and serious consequences of murder.
In contrast to Brutus and Antony, B.H. Wood's Julius Caesar was not impressive enough. The part was well played, but on no occasion did Wood achieve the grandeur and power of Caesar; and it had unfortunate consequences in that the tragedy is based on the murder of the commander of the world. However, the fault lay in the fact that the part was not suitably cast, and not with the actor. A far greater error was the miscasting of P.B. Collins as Cassius, since a completely serious part just does not seem to suit him. His method of dramatic caricature is entirely unfitted for a tragedy. P.B. Collins spoiled many lines by trying to stress too much, laying undue emphasis on practically everything.
The rest of the characters were an inglorious mixture of good, bad and indifferent, and when neither Antony nor Brutus was present the interest of the audience was left dependent upon Shakespeare's blank verse, which is usually pleasant, however badly it is spoken. :\numg the fully competent were C. V'illi<ims as a Soothsayer, A. "fcl>bs as tlrtemidorus, all(] I. Glogowsky as Casca, though he was perhaps a little too curt. B. G. Abbott was totallV lacking in confidence as 1'urtia and was unsatisfactory in the part, while Calpurnia ((:. P. Forsdyke) was little better. Among tile remainder of the cast some newcomers showed promise for the future when they are more experienced, but some of the experienced hands seemed to have lapsed into a state of mediocrity for this performance.
Yet the general impression left by the play was favourable largely because of Mr. Bence's skilled production, backed by F. Smith, M. Fullagar, the scenery and the lighting. The most memorable scene on the School stage for a long time was the fine dramatic curtain at the end of the first part of the play when Antony was silhouetted against the darkening sky which gradually turned to the red of sunset.