At first, I wasn’t sure if this was a true documentary or a fictionalised account of Italian prisoners putting on a production of Julius Caesar as part of a jail theatre programme. In fact, it has real prisoners “acting” as themselves in a kind of double artifice. There is something wonderfully staged about the film, which works to blur the theatrical world of Shakespeare almost seamlessly with the world of the prison. Filmed largely in black and white, the routines of prison life are ignored as the cast members rehearse in their own time in the prison grounds.
Watching it feels like one is in a waking dream – as if the fabric of the play has bled into real life. There is a surreal moment in which the whole prison becomes part of the play as the actor playing Mark Anthony addresses a wall of baying prisoners climbing to their cell windows to view the players. The prison guards watch rehearsals from gangways, but they too seem to be part of the illusion, a Shakespearean supporting cast passing casual observations.
One player remarks of the dialogue, “It’s as if Shakespeare knew the streets of my childhood” and the similarities of a play about complicity, betrayal and murder are all too obvious to these men of the Camorra.
Previewed at the ICA in late January, it goes on general release 1 March, and I urge you to see it.