Freedman's 1979 Julius Caesar
GERALD FREEDMAN: Now when I did a production of Julius Caesar, I had seen a production in another festival of Julius Caesar in togas, and I thought, "God this is so boring! And it can't be! It's such a hot play!" It was not one of my favorites, but I thought it's a hot political play, there's a lot of stuff going on here.
And when I had the occasion to do it two or three years later, I did it in modern dress, and I used closed circuit TV, and I used it only where closed circuit TV was apt, in that market—that was somewhere in the 70s, meaning you could not go into the Senate chamber because there was no TV then, but you could use TV as Caesar approaching the chamber, you could use TV on the battle scenes. Well, putting together documentary of war footage and using closed circuit TV, I got a pretty exciting show.
Now what happened, I had decided to do this when the Iranian revolution broke out. Now by the time I went into rehearsal, the shah had been deposed and the warring parties were now fighting each other, or those who had overthrown the shah were now fighting each other. And it was like Shakespeare had created a paradigm for what was going on daily in the press. I had my assistant cut out news items which were moment to moment what was happening in the play. So it was a very, very immediate experience. That was the best way, I thought, to bring that play alive to an audience.
In the orations, Brutus's oration to the people and Antony's oration to the people, I used big blow-ups of screen, like you would at a political rally, behind the actual actors, because I thought that's how you'd reach a big crowd, with that media device. Although I had warned the actors of this, that we were going to do it, when we had our dress rehearsal they were a little dismayed because they realized in a way they were in competition with their image. Well, when we did it, and I got them over that hump, and when we did it in performance, what was stunning to me is that the audience was watching the image and not the actor, and it was an absolute slam dunk for Antony to win the orations, which he does.
When you read the play you think, well, Brutus is totally reasonable, why didn't they go with him? Why can Antony sway the mob so easily and so quickly? But when their image is about eight feet high, and—Brutus was an English actor, as it happened, who spoke beautifully, but close up you could see him working. You could see actually sputum spraying from his mouth, which you wouldn't see in a theater, but you would see in close-up TV, and Antony, who was played by Jimmy Naughton, was like a Kennedy character. Very cool, very laid back, very attractive, and he was able to sway the crowd through his image so predictably. It became very evident, anyway, in that modern setting, how that reversal took place—much more easily, I think, than it happens in the theater. In the theater you take it by faith. When I had the images operating, the audience was changed. It was very clear to them.