Another day, another modern dress version of this, one of the most political of Shakespeare’s plays. There’s nothing wrong with modern dress of course, (although it did set me thinking about the last time there was a major production in London where togas were worn) but there is a sameness about productions of this play.
David Farr’s touring show is the latest in a long line of productions were Caesar is presented as a kind of totalitarian figure in some sort of police state. The scene is set right from the start when the tribune, Flavius, is eliminated by the police for tearing down posters of Caesar. This does raise one question, though. How, in such an effective police state, are the conspirators allowed to continue unchecked? Particularly when half the senate seems to have got wind of their intentions?
Farr was responsible for what I consider one of the best recent Shakespearean productions when his Japanese Coriolanus threw new light on another highly politicised play. It’s disappointing therefore that this production fails to live up to expectations.
Ti Green’s set, all glass and gun-metal grey, looks more like the background to a particularly violent computer game than Ancient Rome. It’s well matched by Keith Clouston’s dissonant music, although a musical interlude based around the constant repetition of “war, war, gore, gore” is instantly forgettable, and unintentionally hilarious.
Given the striking similarity to so many productions, strong actors are needed in the major role. Gary Oliver’s Mark Anthony seems to justify the character’s self-description of a ‘plain, blunt man’ (although his bullish demeanour masks a shrewd political manipulator, tearing up Caesar’s will once it has served its purpose). Adrian Schiller is a thoughtful Cassius, burning with an almost hysterical anger yet rational at the same time, which is at odds with Zubin Varla’s rather dull Brutus; there’s certainly no sense that he is the moral conscience of the conspirators, or indeed Rome itself.
There’s nothing really wrong with this production but after seeing several of these, I long for a director to think of a new approach to this play and dump the totalitarian overtones. And a moratorium on video cameras wouldn’t go amiss either – their ubiquity is becoming a dull theatrical cliché.
- Maxwell Cooter (reviewed at the Lyric Hammersmith)