There's a commitment on the part of the
performers which you don't always see in Shakespeare productions.
This cast of Black actors transport you to an unnamed African state
where the pre-eminence of one man threatens the (admittedly
crumbling) status quo. Gregory Doran and his designer Michael
Vale introduce the audience to a market-place which is also a
political arena populated by ordinary people trying to get on with
their lives and an upper-class which is deeply troubled.
Steep steps, an ominous tunnel and a
giant statue of the man-of-the-moment dominate the acting area. What
we see tends to overwhelm what we hear; best to think of it as a
production in a foreign language with which we are familiar, but
which is not our mother-tongue. Of the main cast, Jeffery Kissoon
in the title role, Joseph Mydell's Caca, Ray Fearon's impassioned
Antony (delivering an impressively shaded “Friends, Romans,
countrymen” speech) and Theo Ogundipe's witch-doctor Soothsayer
There is a good contrast between the
sincerity of Paterson Joseph's Brutus and the more devious Cassius
of Cyril Nri. Ricky Fearon offers a sketch of elder-statesman
Cicero which rings true as a slightly fusty academic, strong on
theory but wary of practice. We feel sorry for Cinna the Poet (Jude
Owusu) as the enraged populace “necklaces” him and laugh with
Simon Manyonda as Brutus' servant Lucius, both overworked (he keeps
on dropping of to sleep) and just oh-so-slightly over-indulged.
Seven musicians grouped to one side at
the top of the steps provide their own commentary as the tragedy
unfolds. The Rome of the dying Republic is over 2,000 years rmoved
from us. The political situations of the late 16th century
in Europe and the British Isles are just as distanced. But, as
previous up-dated productions of Julius Caesar and
now this RSC one so clearly demonstrated, the hunger for power still
dominates the 21st century. And, of course, so does its
ability to corrupt. Utterly.