When it was first staged in 1997, Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio’s Julius Caesar. Spared Parts was celebrated as a radical take on one of Shakespeare’s more popular Roman plays. Now, nineteen years later, cut down to a running time of just 55 minutes and presented in an intimate studio space inside the Shakespeare Theatre in Gdańsk, this is a revisitation rather than a revival. But the production certainly still has that shock factor even without several of the original’s fragments, which included one with anorexic women as Brutus and Cassius. There is still plenty to applause, to gasp at and to be baffled by; at the curtain call the actors shared the stage with a fake breast, a bloody heart, and a real live horse.
Julius Caesar. Spared Parts presents fragments of Shakespeare’s play in order to deconstruct the power of political rhetoric. First an actor (Sergio Scarlatella) – whose name badge reads “…vsky” in a nod to the groundbreaking Russian director Stanislavsky – puts an endoscope up his nose and down into his throat. Several people in the audience (myself included) visibly recoil as the camera’s route through the nasal cavity, mucus and moving muscles is projected onto the white curtain behind the actor. Spoken by “…vsky”, the famous “Friends, Romans, countrymen” speech looks more like a science experiment than a political act. The projection of the actor’s larynx, something horribly human that dilates and contracts like something alien, reminds us that even carefully constructed political rhetoric depends upon the body and its hidden functions.
While there are some visually stunning moments, such as the red robes and a bloody heart against the all-white backdrop and the beautiful, symbolic smashing of lightbulbs, it is the emptiness of words and the meaning manifested in the body that director Romeo Castellucci focuses on. In the next fragment, Gianni Plazzi’s elderly body is used to portray the weakness of Julius Caesar. Plazzi walks to the centre of the playing space at an excruciating pace, his footsteps’ echoes exaggerated to sound unbearably heavy. The words ‘MENE TEKE PERES’ (a Biblical warning of judgement and the end of a reign from the Book of Daniel) are painted on a horse whose ears flicker at the loud sounds of Caesar’s movements. In a really powerful moment, the red robes are zipped over his head and feet like a bloodied shroud and he is dragged out of the Senate, through the audience, before the final and the most startling fragment in which Dalmazio Masini performs Mark Antony’s oration. Antony’s speech comes choking out from the hole in Masini’s throat, a laryngectomy scar, sometimes rasping or gargling and constantly dragging attention away from his words and back onto his body.
The fragments often make for uncomfortable viewing: it is difficult to watch a man coughing as he forces a camera down his throat; the horse looks a little distressed; ‘Mark Antony’ sounds like he is in pain. Yet, by repeatedly stripping rhetorical performances back to the raw, unpalatable humanity of organs, ageing bodies and open wounds, Romeo Castellucci is certainly successful in undermining (Shakespeare’s) speech. Whether the resulting production is perverted or profound ultimately depends on your point of view and the strength of your gag reflex. But, either way, Julius Caesar. Spared Parts is a shocking but ultimately unforgettable experience that grabs Shakespeare’s play by the throat and pares it down to its ugly essence. Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio’s intense and visceral style pushes their audience beyond its comfort zone to confront the power we invest in politicians’ words. This message, even when this fragmented, is more vital now than ever.