I've not had the best luck with Shakespeare in the Park (SitP), though this was bound to change.
The last time I attended SitP, it rained cats and dogs. The entire audience scrambled to seek refuge in Fort Canning Arts Centre. The performance was halted. Drenched and unquenched by the arts, we squelched our way home.
On another occasion, I watched Adrian Pang diminish the importance of a serious character by adding slapstick humour. I was disenchanted and barely bothered to approach SiTP again.
Until Julius Caesar.
On the late April day we were to catch this political tragedy, it poured for the better half of the afternoon. Fortunately, this primed the grounds of Fort Canning to be cool, and the constant breeze lifted the usual heaviness in the atmosphere – much needed for Julius Caesar.
It wasn't that the winds were in our favour – SiTP made a concerted effort to make this political tragedy more accessible (Shakespeare, in its most traditional form, isn't always the most appealing) through various means. The SGD1.2 million-dollar set is in the mid-century brutalist style, highlighting the beauty of the Bard's works: political and societal commentary spans the ages. Production designer, Richard Kent, took references from the United Nations in New York, and made the set imposing but open to draw in the crowd. "The audience will be able to step in to the inner sanctum of power before taking their seats," he said in an interview with the National Design Centre.
The details and techniques were not to be remissed, either: instead of rain water, "blood" poured down, only to be scooped up by the tragedy's perpetrators, and the live feed on the monitors intensified the urgency of the political commentary.
Impressive as it may be, a set is only effective with actors who can bring the sense of space into their craft. Fortunately, the cast – under the direction of Guy Unsworth – managed beautifully. On top of that, the swapping of gender in the play's pivotal roles was shrewd, not to mention current in these climes.
Until Julius Caesar, it was always easy to dismiss SiTP -- either the set wasn't impressive enough, or the actors weren't up to par. Even the opportunity to recline under the stars with reusable picnic wares wasn't enticing enough. With Julius Caesar, the fault wasn't in the stars. There was no fault at all.
Shakespeare in the Park, Julius Caesar at Fort Canning Park is staged from 2 to 27 May 2018. Tickets are still available here.