Brighton Shakespeare Company head to Brighton, Lewes and Crawley

After 18 months’ delay and near extinction, Brighton Shakespeare Company is back.

Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar

Finally they bring their production of Julius Caesar to Lewes Castle, The Hawth, Crawley and Brighton Open Air Theatre.

Company founder Mark Brailsford said: “BOAT opened in 2015 and then invited me to do a show there. I do The Treason (comedy) Show and I didn’t think it would work there, but I have always directed Shakespeare and so I created the Brighton Shakespeare Company. This is our seventh Shakespeare now and our sixth at BOAT.

Julius Caesar will be at Lewes Castle on August 21 and 22; at The Hawth, Crawley on August 28 and at Brighton Open Air Theatre from September 8 to 11.

In a way the company goes back to the late actor Ron Moody, famously Fagin in the film version of Oliver!

“I already had the infrastructure for the new company,” Mark says. “I had a box office system and a team of performers that were comedically adept and that were also good straight actors. I knew a whole bunch of people.”

But key to it all was that Mark had been directed once by Ron Moody in London: “And because I came from that comedic background, we got on. Ron liked what I did, and we talked about the idea that he had that he wanted to form a company of the real old guard of the comedy world and then do the classics.

“He didn’t do it. But the seed was planted. That was way back in 1991 and I had always wanted to do this. I have always thought that comic actors can bring so much to the darkness of Shakespeare.”

Mark’s point is that comedic actors have a great advantage when it comes to making Shakespeare accessible, but also when it comes to making Shakespeare understandable.

And so they launched with The Merry Wives of Windsor which took off. They did Much Ado and then they did Macbeth and then a Merchant of Venice with a female Shylock.

“We then did Comedy of Errors and then A Midsummer Night’s Dream which was probably our best. We wrapped it around a swing dance theme. And so I have this fabulous busman’s holiday every summer.”

Inevitably nothing happened last year: “We were nearly wiped out. Julius Caesar never happened last year.”

And they weren’t sure what was happening at BOAT. It was a tough time for the company. And there was extra pressure that they needed to commit to this summer’s Julius Caesar back in January, in the depths of lockdown.

“But it is happening, and it is a chance now to extend the logic of the Ron Moody idea. He wanted to do the classics, the serious classics, and this is a good play to do.

“The current times are reflected in the mayhem and in the cronyism of Rome. It speaks to us now. Julius Caesar is a brilliant play and a very dramatic piece. It means that we are extending beyond the comedies.”

And to bring in the new audiences, they are giving the piece a Quintin Tarantino look, inspired by the line “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!”

“We are wearing the shades and the mobster gang look. We have lost the togas.

“Some people that are wedded to the classical versions won’t be pleased, but we are wanting to bring in people who think that Shakespeare is boring, people who will think that togas are boring. We want new audiences.”