October 10, 2006, by Peter Kirwan

Regime Change (RSC/BBC Radio 3) @ The Swan Theatre

The first excitement of today was getting the free programme and seeing the cast list. Not only were several of the best actors of the ‘Julius Caesar’/’Tempest’ company (including Julian Bleach, Mariah Gale, John Hopkins, Joseph Alessi, David Rubin and Golda Rosheuvel) involved, but for this event only the fantastic actor Henry Goodman had come back to the company as the lead character.

‘Regime Change’ is a response by writer Peter Straughan to ‘Julius Caesar’, specifically to Brutus’ night of anguish before the murder of Caesar. Straughan’s play takes place in modern Istanbul, a time of subtle political change and backstage intrigue. Two Russian-Americans, Lutz and Coiler, are based in the country in preparation for a covert change in the local political systems, which as the years pass becomes increasingly unlikely. Meanwhile, Lutz builds a relationship with Jean, a young pregnant wife which grows (in his mind) into something more, while the repressed Coiler builds a relationship with a fortune teller and her intimidating brother and eventually breaks free from his own constrictions, killing Jean’s husband and coming into his political prime.

This was a rehearsed reading for Radio 3, which is going to be recorded for broadcast in January. Actors were in their own clothes and reading from scripts, but basic blocking meant that they were still performing physically as they read. The performances were excellent, with Henry Goodman in particular bringing a moving vulnerability to the aging Lutz as his memory slowly succumbed to dementia, and Joseph Alessi giving a twitchy and intense performance as Coiler that graduated to a cold confidence contrasting horribly with his partner.

I suppose I’m just not entirely sure what the play was about, as such. The intention of it as a response certainly didn’t seem to be to shed new light on ‘Caesar’, as much as to borrow a loose idea from it, that of the insurrection that occurs in the man “Between the acting of a dreadful thing/ And the first motion”. An hour and a half long, the play split itself between its two parallel plots, and Coiler’s in particular became confusing as various stimuli- a platonic relationship with a prostitute, accusations of homosexuality and a come-on from a retarded male- combined to bring out in him extreme acts of sex and violence.

This was an entertaining afternoon, with a lot of laughs and some quite moving moments, particularly in the final scene as Lutz lay down and kicked his legs in the air, learning to float in the water of a swimming pool and laughing over and over, just after Coiler and an American operative negotiated his murder. This wasn’t a version of ‘Julius Caesar’, and as a response was only very loosely based on anything Shakespearean, but was certainly an interesting and unusual addition to the Festival.

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