A play that definitely had a captive audience

Salvatore Striano as Brutus and Giovanni Arcuri as Caesar
Salvatore Striano as Brutus and Giovanni Arcuri as Caesar

Caesar is a drugs trafficker. Brutus is Mafia. Cassius is a murderer. Between them they have spent 51 years in a high security prison in Rome.

They are not actors; they are dangerous men who spend their days in solitary cells, double-locked.

And yet they become actors. Their passion and commitment for William Shakespeare is breathtaking. The play is their life for the period of its production.

The director who decided to come into the Rebibbia jail and cast Julius Caesar took a risk that the inmates would fight over the roles.

There are rumblings, quickly repulsed, as the parts are handed out, but no physical violence.

That is reserved for the performance, endorsing Shakespeare’s fascination with sudden death.

The Taviani brothers have made a documentary that feels closer to a journey, even a revelation for those involved.

It begins at the end in the final scene with Brutus dead and rebellion erupting. The actors come forward to take their bow. The audience leap to their feet, applauding wildly. The performers demonstrate their appreciation loudly from the stage before being escorted back to their cells. It is a highly-charged moment – the end of the play, the beginning of the film.

It is difficult to exaggerate the power of such a simple concept, nor the Taviani’s skill in composition and treatment. They use unexpected areas of the prison for rehearsal, so that the story of Caesar’s murder is broadened to include a bleaker architecture.

The triumph is twofold: Julius in Rebibbia and Caesar on screen.