Second Year Shakespeare Workshop
Both Ms Foley’s second year classes had been studying Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” since the beginning of second year. When we had finally finished and had been duly examined Ms Foley announced to us that a theatrical company by the name of Cyclone would perform the play live for us in the cinema gym on Friday the 28th of February.
The day had finally come, a crisp Friday morning, a blanket of snow had settled on the grass and the morning fog lingered in the air. We all made our way to the cinema gym for 9:38 Am. There was a buzz of excitement as we arrived in. We were greeted by two men, Mick, a tall, slender, slight man with brown locks of curly hair down to his shoulders and Tommy, a small, squat man with short brown hair. They were both very unkempt wearing nothing but underwear and rags.
They introduced themselves and announced that it was going to be no ordinary Shakespeare play but “a play within a play”, it was to be about two nationalists in Maze prison who performed Julius Caesar in their cell to abstain from boredom and as it was Mick’s hero, Nelson Mandela’s favourite play.
They said that Julius Caesar and the “troubles” were very alike and that we would realise this as the play progressed, I for one was struggling to see any correlation between the two at the beginning.
From my vantage point, after watching the play there were three parallels, they were both struggles, they were both fights for their patriotic beliefs and there was one question, to ask about both of them, as said by Tommy at the end “was this worth it?, was this honour?”.
The play commenced abruptly with a guard, Tommy, beating a prisoner, Mick. They were acting, it was what they loved to do. They were in a squalid cell with excrement plastered on the walls. They had been protesting in what was known as the “dirty protest” it had originally started by the refusal to wash but soon escalated to rubbing excrement on any piece of bare wall. They were fighting for the right to attain prisoners of war status, this also resulted in refusal to wear their prison uniforms.
Mick persuaded Tommy to preform Julius Caesar with him as he felt it had relevance at the time. Tommy was reluctant at first but after a while Mick coaxed him into performing.
They progressed uninterrupted through the opening scenes until Mick announced with angst on the news of the death of Bobby Sands that he would go on hunger strike. It took him a lot of careful consideration over the inevitabilities of going on hunger strike, such as the fact that he was jeopardising his family as he was walking into almost certain death but his patriotism trumped this. Here I believe is the first similarity between the Julius Caesar the play, and Cyclone’s performance of it. Brutus stated during the play “not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more” after killing his good friend Caesar to save Rome as a republic. This is directly correlated to Mick not loving his “family” less but loving his country more. Often throughout the play Mick reflects on this decision with very mixed opinions.
While the play advances Mick’s health rapidly deteriorates. The play halts ever so often for Tommy to inform us in grave detail what happens to the human body during a hunger strike and the pain he it has to endure. He described constant exhaustion, dizziness, inability to stand and constant hallucinations. This is very closely linked with Brutus’ struggle, albeit, Brutus was emotionally traumatised. He endured living with the guilt of killing his dear friend, whose ghost haunted him throughout the play and his wife committing suicide. To continue to fight for one’s beliefs in the face of a struggle as epic as those is a tall order yet they both persevered. Here I believe is another correlation between the two.
The play came to its climax when Cassius (Brutus’ colleague), played by Mick, was gasping in his last breath of air all the while Mick, likewise, took his last breath. Both characters fell in a heap on the ground, Tommy proclaimed with horror crackling in his voice “was this worth it? was this honour?”
This was a very odd question to be asked and set the scene for an array of questions to be asked of the actors.
To sum it up the play was excellent, and the use of the ”play within, a play” technique really enhanced it especially for us as we had read through the play 100’s of times and knew it like the back of our hands. The integration of the play really, for me brought a certain thrill along with it.
By Maccon Keane