Timeless tragedy as relevant as ever

Canberra actor Sara Zwangobani portrays Mark Anthony in Bell Shakespeare’s production of Julius Caesar, coming to Canberra Theatre later this month.

A political thriller that transcends time, Bell Shakespeare’s production of Julius Caesar finds itself in Canberra just weeks after the actions of our country’s elected officials mirrored, in many ways, those of the Roman aristocracy depicted in the Bard’s tragedy.

“In the media there were so many references to Brutus and Cassius and the conspiracy of Julius Caesar, that political wrangling is a part of human nature,” says Canberra actress Sara Zwangobani, who plays Mark Anthony.

“In our parliament it was bloodless … but I think we can relate to that idea of conspiracy within politics, but also that people have different desires for their countries and their people.

She says, in that sense, Julius Caesar can act as a cautionary tale too.

“It asks what it means when we try to make political stability through violence. In Canberra we’ve seen governments try to achieve stability through ousting their leader, which we’ve seen so many times in recent history.”

As is so often the case with Bell Shakespeare, Zwangobani and the rest of the cast and crew have been touring the show across Australia since July, so far presenting over 40 performances in big cities and small towns right across Tasmania, Western Australia, Victoria, Queensland and the Northern Territory.

They will come to the Canberra Theatre on 12-20 October with a stripped back production Zwangobani describes as minimalistic.

“It has to travel to 26 cities over six months, and that means you don’t have a lot of elaborate props or costumes to hide behind.

“Also, our director James Evans has a particular love for the language of Shakespeare and wants that to be front and centre.”

She says that aspect of the production challenges her as an actor, as it can be Greek to some.

“It means you must have a great command of the language, and that we also have to be extremely specific to help the audience understand because it’s extremely difficult to watch and follow too.”

Zwangobani says her role of Mark Antony provides her with plenty of challenges too.

“It’s such a great role to tackle. It has its challenges specific to the fact I’m a woman … And I think it makes it relevant because we are having discussions around gender roles in society.

“Mark Antony has some awesome speeches too … Trying to convince people of something through words is an incredibly human thing; I find that really wonderful and think the world of ideas is very wonderful and Shakespeare explores that space very well.”

A Canberra local born and raised in the Belconnen area, more specifically Cook, Zwangobani works as a teacher at Calwell High when she’s not acting.

“That’s been amazing. My mother and brother are both teachers in the Canberra system, Mum for over 40 years and my brother for over 10,” she says.

Zwangobani describes this production as stripped back and minimalistic in nature, with a focus on the language of the play rather than costumes and sets.

“It’s been wonderful to see the world of Canberra through their eyes, but I’ve also always had an  admiration for the Canberra education system … and I now have proof of how great it is through my experience.”

She also says one of her favourite things about Canberra is, funnily enough, the weather.

“The winter is the best winter anywhere; it’s beautiful and blue when it’s cold. And I can’t wait to be there in spring and show my cast mates Floriade.”

She encourages all Canberrans to see the play.

“The best thing about it is that it’s a stripped back production with a rawness to it, there’s gender switches and diversity.

“It’s making a lot of people think, talk and be challenged, and for me that’s the best thing about it.

“It’s great that this one has other challenges that reflect Australia today … a lot of people are coming away with new ideas,” she says.

Bell Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar will be performed at The Playhouse, 12-20 October; canberratheatrecentre.com.au

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