Summer brings Shakespeare to Oxford, and vying for the most original presentation is Don't Hate the Players' near-future Julius Caesar, set in a brutal Britain dominated by squabbling factions of thug politicians in cheap suits: half rabble, half cabinet, all bad decisions.
The Said Business school opts for its outside concrete amphitheatre (bring a cushion) whenever possible, and we had beautiful weather; blue sky cut by low flying aeroplanes, goldfinches twittering overhead, the smoke of summer barbecues and the roar of passing freight trains. Brutus (Craig Finlay) scrambles through the first half, the soft hands and poor decisions of the career politician sitting ill on him. In the second, he swaps his suit for combats and a gleeful appetite for chaos. A bluff kind of chemistry crackles between him and his counterpart, the heart of the production, Chloe Orrock as Cassius; a seductive storm of ambition thwarted, and honour taken to its logical, brutal end.
Then there is Caesar, Kieran Suchet as a stumbling glorious mob boss in shiny shoes. With Calpurnia (Mary Saunders, brittle and panicked) he is the power couple in collapse, beset by superstition, betrayal, and scattered medals. Small stabs of humour spatter the production, bringing home the domesticity of the tragedy which sees friends and brothers turn on each other. Binge drinking teens in stack-heel trainers and Roman joke t-shirts trade quips with chunky soldiers. Liza Cosier as Lucia (Brutus' servant) packs giddy volumes into her few lines. Finally there is Octavius Caesar (Marcus Davis-Orrom), a chilling scrap of steel and ambition, radiating menace and fairly spitting his spare and brutal lines.
As the tangled battlefield slows into disaster, poor decisions and suicide, each actor takes their bow and collapses onto the concrete, spent, after a production which feels not so much science fiction as savagely contemporary.