Julius Caesar - an austere production
Nigel Barrett as Julius Caesar. Photo Marc Brenner.
Julius Caesar, RSC Stratford-Upon-Avon. Running from 18 March to 8 April.
Reviewed by John Hudson.
Advance publicity for this production focussed on its re-casting of gender roles, most notably the conspirators Brutus and Cassius being played by female actors, Thalissa Teixeira and Kelly Gough - both of whom aquit themselves very well, as does Ella Dacres as Octavius Caesar in the second half of the play. If problems with this approach are apparent, they have little to do with the qualities of performance.
This clearly isn’t Rome. The names remain the same, but the patriarchal structure has gone. Women and men conspire to do something awful for the public good. They look like us, this looks like our world, and we are no longer shocked that young women should rival men in zealotry. So the first half of the play persuades us this approach to the drama might work – up to a point. Then Mark Antony – ably played by William Robinson, reminds us several times in his famous speech that “Brutus is an honourable man”, and something jars.
Annabel Baldwin as Soothsayer, Joshua Dunn as Cinna the Poet and company. Photo Marc Brenner (c) RSC
The conspirators claim to be defending the Republic against Caesar’s creeping ambition to become Emperor. To emphasise their democratic credentials, the cast are in modern dress, but of the classless kind. The effect of this is to have no visible hierarchy – Caesar looks like everyone else, so where is the visual representation of his ambition? I felt his assassination is diminished in impact as a consequence.
This is a very austere production. The stage is bare, apart from a revolving cube at its rear, which sometimes reveals an interior, but for a large part serves as a backdrop for the now seemingly obligatory projections. Many of these appear no more relevant to the drama than wallpaper, but as the production is far from being visually sumptuous, there are times when the audience is glad of them.
The company of Julius Caesar. Photo Marc Brenner (c) RSC.
The play peaks at Caesar’s death and Mark Antony’s oratory, so the second half clocks in at only 45 minutes, as retribution is meted out culminating in the battle of Philippi. No combat fatigues are donned, so warfare is conducted in civvies without weapons. What fighting there is seems weirdly choreographed and almost apologetic. Brutus dies by running into the outstretched arm of her manservant. Caesar himself had died by being daubed with black goo from the hands of his assassins.
Overall though, this performance cracked along and was always interesting if not always convincingly realised.
Julius Caesar, directed by Atri Banerjee will play in Stratford then tour to nine venues across the country.
For ticket and further details, go to: https://www.rsc.org.uk/julius-caesar/