Despite the shocks and gasps of horror of some theatrical purists, writers have always meddled with Shakespeare’s plays since about 50 years after his death. The Bard’s stories in reality never grow old and thanks to his wonderful use of language can be adapted to virtually any situation – I can easily attest to this having seen four different versions of Romeo and Juliet this year. The latest Shakespearean play to be given a bit of a makeover is Julius Caesar which is the inspiration for Intermission Youth Theatre’s latest production Rise and Fall playing at St Saviour’s Church in Knightsbridge.
It’s the start of term at West City School and Miss (Chioma Ezeh) is trying to get her class interested in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Before the summer holiday, they were each assigned parts and given the script to learn. However, along with the fun and games of summer holidays, there has been tragedy in the lives of the kids. One of their number – in fact the undoubted leader of the school – Jerome had died in tragic circumstances, related to the rivalry, let’s be honest sheer hatred, felt between the pupils of West and East City schools. Understandably the children are not necessarily fully committed to spending all their spare time on some ancient text whose language means nothing to them. Following a pretty bad rehearsal, Miss challenges the class to really get into the play – changing the wording if necessary but keeping the substance of the various speeches – living and breathing the story and finding a relevance in their own life.
As all of this is going on, the school has a new pupil in the shape of Jay Martin (Eugene Ishani-Fiakpui) a transfer from the hated East City School. Miss immediately gives Jay the role of Caesar in the play, much to the consternation of the rest of the class who see Elijah (Tre La Croix-Medley) following the death of his best friend Jerome, as the leader amongst the group. However, Elijah is cool with Jay, the two of them have been friends since childhood and even agrees to support him when he decides to run for Head Prefect in the school – ably supported by his trusty lieutenant Mark (Kwame Reed). All goes well with Jay’s campaign and very quickly most of the pupils rally to his cause. Those few that don’t are led by Zoe (Madeline Manace Bafoku), who has her own reasons for hating Jay, and starts a whispering campaign against him, beginning with driving a wedge between him and Elijah and leading to the ultimate action against the outsider.
Writer/Director Darren Raymond has done a fantastic job in turning Shakespeare’s epic play into something highly relevant to today. The mixture of Elizabethan English and street language works amazingly well and it’s surprising how often the flow and lyricism found in both languages complements and run together with the other. There was a wonderful scene where the kids were comparing their potential lives with the actual one being lived by their teacher and thanks to their eloquent language, I was very nearly sold on the idea of giving up the 9-5 in favour of a life slightly more on the wild side.
Catherine Morgan’s set works really well with so many points the actors can go on and off that at times the cast seemed much bigger than it actually was. All of the changes of set worked really well, with some great, and relevant, music providing the break as the cast moved items on and off the stage.
Turning to the cast and I have to say this is an amazingly talented bunch of young actors. Every member of the cast was completely believable in their respective roles. The character of Miss was brilliantly brought to life by Chioma Ezeh and she came across beautifully as a young teacher keen to enthuse her students and prepare them for their lives in the world outside. Tre La Croix-Medley as Elijah was absolutely amazing to watch. His composure during the opening eulogy for Jerome was stunning and it was obvious that Tre was really in the moment as tears started to fall from his eyes – setting me off at the same time. I also really loved the brief but poignant look at the home lives of Zoe and Elijah and Zoe’s in particular really moved me. Some brilliant acting from Madeline Manace Bafoku who’s calm, measured delivery was probably more disturbing than the scene she was describing. Mention also to Eugene Ishani-Fiakpui who, as Martin, seemed to almost accept the fate the others had for him despite his obvious lack of understanding of why feelings were the way they were. And finally, Kwame Reed played an absolute blinder as Mark – a character it would be so easy to overplay. Mark is in many respects the comic relief of the production and Kwame, who was obviously loving every moment, played him to the full. His final speech the famous “friends, Romans, Countrymen” was beautifully delivered and a wonderful if immensely sad way to end the show.
Overall, I had a thoroughly fantastic time seeing Rise and Fall. Immersion Youth Theatre are a truly professional group who really seem to love working together. True there were moments in the play that made me feel very uncomfortable but that was down to the sheer realism of the production and the acting itself. A fabulous and thought provoking adaptation of Shakespeare’s work, Rise and Fall is a must for any lover of The Bard’s work.
Review by Terry Eastham
Intermission Youth Theatre present: Rise and Fall
A new play inspired by Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar
Devised by Intermission Youth Theatre and written by Darren Raymond
28th October to 21st November 2015
Wednesday to Saturday 7.30pm
It’s Shakespeare week at West City School and Miss is struggling to get her rowdy class engaged with his play, Julius Caesar. Their rebellion against the language requires some quick innovation and Miss challenges them to live and breathe the play – literally.
When Jay Martin transfers from a rival school and is cast in the lead role classmate Zoe begins a conspiracy against him in an attempt to convince others that he was responsible for the death of their classmate last summer. Parallels between West City School and Shakespeare’s Caesar begin to surface as they try to avoid their own tragedy.
Eugene Ishani-Fiakpui – Jay Martin
Madeline Manace Bafoku – Zoe
Tre La Croix-Medley – Elijah
Kwame Reed – Mark
Donnavan Yates – Tyrone
Ronke Onipede – Jess
Keon Martial-Phillip – Elroy
Emma Kuong – Ashley
Samuel Awoyo – Callum
Danielle Adegoke – Flavius
Vanessa Nunes Burmali – Sophia
Lauren Marshall – Poppy
Iain Gordon – Adrian
Baba Oyejide – Marcus
Nakeba Buchanan – Zoe’s Mum
Claire Ezeh – Miss
Darren Raymond Director
Elisabeth Tooms Stage Manager
Catherine Morgan Set Designer
Cecilia Segar Production Manager