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Saturday, Nov. 11, 2000

Art transcends time in 'Julius Caesar' production

Staff writer

A talented theater director can breathe new life into an old play, and David Lan, the new artistic director of the Young Vic Theater in southeast London, has done just that.

Following his successful production, starring Jude Law, of " 'Tis Pity She's a Whore" at the Young Vic last year, Lan, 48, was appointed to his current position in January, succeeding Tim Supple, who ran the theater for seven years.

David Lan

Hailed by critics for the modern feel he brought to John Ford's nearly 400-year-old work, Lan has worked the same magic again with "Julius Caesar," which opened at the Young Vic in September, kicking off the theater's 30th anniversary season and his first as artistic director.

The play is currently being performed in Japan at Tokyo's Globe, after a run at Osaka's MID Theater.

In a recent interview, Lan said he had chosen "Julius Caesar" for his first production because he wanted to challenge people's notion of the play as fusty and boring.

Lan said he feels that even in things that might look old or uninteresting, "there can be life, contradictions and surprises." It is only a matter of finding a way to spark peoples' interest.

"Time means nothing. Either [the play] has a life or it doesn't," he said.

One method he used to update "Julius Caesar" was to use young actors. Although there is nothing in the play to suggest that the characters are old, they have almost always been played by older actors. However, Lan's new version of "Julius Caesar" has actors in their 30s playing young soldiers in contemporary clothes.

Lan sees the play as posing important questions of morality.

"It is a fantastic story that speaks about your own life," he said. "What is a good way to live? How do you live with people you love or dislike?"

Another issue dealt with in the play is the question of friendship, shown through the relationship between Caesar and his comrades.

"A lot of the play is about love between people who find themselves on opposite political sides," Lan said, finding that it raises the questions: "What is more important -- betrayal or loyalty?" and "Do we live by persuasion or by force of will?"

The play provides no easy answers to these questions, however, leaving interpretation up to the audience.

Lan, who was born and raised in South Africa, has been involved in theater for most of his life. He trained as an actor and after a period directing in Cape Town moved to England in the 1970s, where he gained further training as a director and began writing plays.

He then changed direction and launched a new career as an anthropologist, conducting research in Zimbabwe.

Although he found the work "interesting and powerful," he eventually came back to England to write for the theater again, achieving great stage successes with plays such as "Flight and Desire" in the '80s.

Besides adapting foreign plays, he was also deeply involved in writing television and movie scripts. Currently, though, Lan says that running the Young Vic is a full-time project.

Lan has a vision of a more accessible theater and aims to increase the Young Vic's audience. He says the Young Vic puts a lot of work into attracting young theatergoers, as he believes that if a play works for a young audience, "it works for anybody."

To do this, he tries to choose plays, such as "Julius Caesar," that have a "strong and clear" theme that will appeal to young audiences. To make the theater more innovative and lively, he also plans to offer young directors and writers the chance to have their productions staged.

Although the Young Vic is currently suffering financial woes, he hopes to attract enough government and corporate funding to enable at least two productions directed by a much younger director to be staged next year.

Having been an actor and a writer as well as a director in the past, Lan is well qualified to run a theater, but acknowleges a continuing effort to improve his technical knowhow.

"It's good to know a great deal about the techniques of an art, skill, craft . . . The more you know about how it works, the better your work can be," he says.

No doubt because he has spent most of his life in theater, Lan believes that all of life should be art.

"What art can do is to say we're all the same," he says. "There's more that links and unites us than separates us."

"Julius Caesar" by the Young Vic Theater Company Nov. 7-19 at Tokyo's Globe Theater. For tickets, call Ticket Pia at (03) 5237-9988.

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