Our last day, and it’s fair to say that none of us will be sad to say goodbye to Oriental City, which is where we have been filming Julius Caesar over the past fortnight. According to its Wikipedia page, Oriental City ‘was a shopping centre in Colindale [which] closed for redevelopment on 1 June 2008, but no demolition or building work has yet taken place.’ As you might expect from the name it had an Asian theme with resturants, shops, a Sega World and a casino. But now it’s a sad and delapidated shell which, during the past weeks, has all too often felt damp and cold and truly miserable. But it has been a brilliant location for us – as I’ll try to explain as I update this post during today. Meanwhile, following is a selection of images from the site. Welcome to our world…
For the last three Shakespeare films that we have produced we have tried to find a single location that can provide a range of environments in which to set the action. The idea is not to have a literal context (a castle for Hamlet, for example) but rather somewhere that is sufficiently flexible for us to adapt and dress in a style that parallels the stage design but does aim to replicate it. So while an abandoned shopping mall off the Edgware Road might not seem the obvious setting for a modern-day Julius Caesar set in post-colonial Africa, in fact it has provided a wonderful variety of spaces. Some, like the escalator hall and the ‘grungy kitchen’ below, we have adapted and dressed fairly minimally for our scenes. In others the art department under production designer Michael Vale and art director Matilda Wainwright have done a major make-over.
Yesterday was a tough day, starting with the final section of Act I that we needed, when Caesar returns from the Lupercal games and tells Antony that he does not trust Cassius. This we played on a ground floor location, after which the camera team and everything else moved upstairs – which isn’t the easiest operation when there are no lifts. We filmed for Act IV, Scene 1, the short ‘proscriptions’ scene. And then it was on to the ‘grungy kitchen’ (the penultimate image in this sequence) for the death of Cassius – three major set-ups across the day.
Today, we have Act V Scenes 4 and 5 to shoot. We might have had a pick-up or two to catch as well, but in fact we have kept to schedule so well and achieved such good coverage that this is not necessary. Much of the day is spent on the complex choreography of the final scene, which involves a great deal of manoeuvring in a tight space.
Of course even when we finish here we still have around one-sixth of the play to film in the theatre in Stratford. But we have a month before that, and the actors have another two weeks in the rehearsal room, adapting and adjusting once again to the stage. None of us is sure quite how the integration will work of the location footage and the scenes we shoot in the theatre, so we are as intrigued as everyone else to see how this plays out.
Early afternoon on Saturday there is a moment when half the unit is watching on the monitor the moving death of Brutus when the news comes through that Norwich have equalised 3-3 in the game against Arsenal. The actors waiting for their next scene erupt with pleasure – it appears that the soul of this cast is most definitely with White Hart Lane.
The space known to us ever since we first discovered its joys as the ‘grungy kitchen’ (above) deserves a further note. This awful, abject space, with walls dripping in years old grease and a floor covered in disgusting black gunk, is pretty much the reason that we decided on Oriental City. When Greg Doran and I first walked round, it was here that his ideas crystallised about the way to stage the death of Cassius – and from that I think much everything else fell into place. Since the photo above was taken – and before we filmed here yesterday – w have had specialist industrial cleaners in to get the gunk off the floor. But they had strict instructions not to touch the grease. Steve Lawes lit the room beautifully (he said it was his favourite location of the shoot) and I know the scene will be a highlight of the finished film. From grunge and gunk to glory.
Later: we wrapped ten minutes before time, with every scene that we’d scheduled complete. 213 slates – and what I think is (most of) another exciting and exhilirating RSC/BBC/Illuminations Shakespeare. More tomorrow – after a good night’s sleep!
Previously on the Julius Caesar blog:
‘Well, to our work alive’, 3 May
‘How many ages hence…’, 2 May
‘The Ides of March are come’, 30 April
‘Good words are better than bad strokes’, 27 April
‘Whoever knew the heavens threaten so?’, 26 April
‘Peace. Count the clock.’, 25 April
‘When it is lighted, come and call me here’, 24 April
‘Tell us the manner of it’, 23 April
‘Their battles are at hand’, 21 April
‘A very pleasing night to honest men’, 17 April
‘Be patient till the last’, 12 April
‘Now they are almost on him’, 6 April
‘A mourning Rome, a dangerous Rome’, 2 April
‘Tell us what hath chanced today’, 30 March
‘Shakespeare’s Africa play’, 29 February
‘Friends, Romans, countrymen…’, 24 November