It’s one of Shakespeare’s most political, conspiratorial and dynamic dramas, outlining an epic revolution that changed the course of an empire with a wave of bloody violence and retribution.
So it’s quite an achievement to make it seem tame and a little bit lacklustre.
RSC debutant Lucy Bailey – a director with an eye for imagery and spectacle – somehow manages to miss her mark with this production, staging every battle of words as a shouting contest and losing the intrigues of the scheming Roman senate in the process.
She’s not helped, either, by the normally ultra-reliable designer William Dudley, whose computer-generated back-projections of an angry mob or a city in flames become merely a source of irritation after a promising start. Costume designer Fotini Dimou also undermines the power of the Roman aristocracy by dressing them in a collection of bizarrely feminine outfits that wouldn’t look out of place in a support group of pre-op transsexuals.
Sight lines and inaudibility continue to be a problem in The Courtyard, and more than one punter failed to return after the interval, complaining of simply not being able to hear – an unforgivable failing in a company so dedicated to rendering Shakespeare accessible to all.
Among the performances, Sam Troughton makes a decent fist of Brutus, if looking more like a truculent school prefect than a world-shattering revolutionary. Oliver Ryan catches the eye in the minor role of co-conspirator Casca, while Darrell D’Silva’s Mark Antony is more thuggish schemer than noble statesman. Greg Hicks in the title role passively allows his tragedy to unfold around him – not unlike his toga, which almost caused a tragedy of its own as he mounted the senate steps and caught his foot in a dangling swathe. It was an all-too-rare heartstopping moment.
There’s no lack of ambition with this ensemble, which will be together for another two years. What’s missing so far is any sense of depth, of substance. Perhaps the bar was set so high with the recent Histories that the RSC has been trumped by its own magnificence. Here’s hoping the new young company can match the heights of its ambition and grow into itself over the next dozen or so productions together.