Caesar triumphant again under RSC command
Julius Caesar, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, until September 9.
It is the production values that give the Royal Shakespeare Company their world-beating edge.
Offer them the opportunity to spill a little blood on stage, conjure up the majesty of Rome in a single colonnade or flash a violent thunderstorm across the ceiling of the auditorium and they can always turn make-believe into real. And in this new production of Julius Caesar, Shakespeare's full-on political tragedy, they're excelling themselves.
Written in 1599, with old Queen Bess only a couple of years from her deathbed, the play must have given the Bard one or two sleepless nights, dealing as it does with tricky issues around succession and the transfer of power. But in pre-imperial Rome it was all a lot more straightforward, if grisly.
At the core of the piece stands Brutus, the 'honourable man', struggling to reconcile his love for Caesar and his fierce adherence to the Republic, and from Alex Waldmann the role draws a sensitive, even tender interpretation.
This Brutus would much rather make friends than enemies, hence the real power of that strangled 'Et Tu Brute' from JC as he slips to the floor with his toga all blood-boltered.
Andrew Woodall's Caesar is appropriately magisterial, although he spends almost as much time lying dead on stage as he does talking and he's pretty much done before half time.
Martin Hutson puts in a solid performance as Cassius, Brutus's self-serving but similarly anguished chief co-conspirator. But for me the highlight among the principals is James Corrigan as Mark Antony, who squeezes everything there is to be squeezed from the play's key moment, Antony's wonderfully subtle address to those Friends, Romans and Countryman, aka that blunt instrument of power in classical Rome, the plebeian mob.
The battle scenes are terrific, the choreography of ensemble-playing never less than compelling, and the production finds in young Samuel Littell, making his professional stage debut as little boy Lucius, a protagonist whose final scene draws a gasp of horror from the audience.
Hope his Mum was OK with that.
Pictured left to right, Hannah Morrish (Portia), Alex Waldmann (Brutus), Kristin Atherton (Calphurnia), Andrew Woodall (Julius Caesar) James Corrigan (Mark Anthony)