Back in 1978, Jim Jones took his followers, the Peoples Temple, from the USA down to Guyana in a bid to start a new community, based on social ideals and free from what he perceived to be the tyranny of the capitalist system. This act resulted in the death of 909 people, poisoned by an infamous barrel of cyanide-laced Kool-Aid.
Cut to 44 BC, Rome as seen through the lens of Shakespeare, and we find a republic collapsing as fiery, charismatic personalities clash in an effort to wrest control from the self-proclaimed demigod, Julius Caesar.
In an act of reinvigoration, director Kate Revz has combined these two apocalyptic communities in her production of Julius Caesar, drawing her audience's attention to the wars that are waged for souls and minds, rather than dirt and oil. Her vision is secure for the most part, with the Republic's death rattles mapping neatly onto the sweaty jungle of Jonestown. Lucilla Smith's set design, as well as Caitlin Porter's maddening jungle soundscape, play a strong role in creating this desperate world.
Populating Revz's Rome is a cast filled with the talent to both traumatise and inspire. James Mackay's Marc Anthony is a stellar orator, able to turn the tide of revolution in his favour all while mourning his beloved Caesar. Opposing Anthony is lead conspirator Cassius (Brent Hill), whose downward spiral is greatly portrayed in the second half of the show.
However, it is the people that matter in Rome, and Revz's production rewards her audience for looking away from the speakers: the dark corners of the stage are constantly alive with shivering and weeping forms, which adds greatly to the atmosphere of the play. One striking moment is the silent interchange between Megan O'Connell and Aimee Horne across the body of Brutus' wife, Portia (Gemma Pranita).
There is only one jarring flaw in this production, and that is the annoying presence of a pole immediately in front of the audience. Sadly this pole seems to cover an arc that contains many key moments of the play, tearing what might have been affecting images right through the middle. Aside from this, the other faults are only minor quibbles â€” a common tendency to fall back into traditional Shakespearean voice against the grain of the Jonestown setting, as well as pockets of overacting that rub raw amongst the subtler performances.
As far as debuts go, Julius Caesar is a mighty birth for Revz's theatrical co-operative, Cry Havoc, and certainly marks this as a creative ensemble to keep watching.