Julius Caesar is a play made for The Globe. It's not only that it was the first production in the original theatre, its dependence on crowd scenes means that it offers directors an ideal opportunity to use the groundlings as a backdrop.
Director Dominic Dromgoole goes one step further: the entire foyer area is transformed into the festival of Lupercal, complete with football-style chanting between rival gangs. It makes for an invigorating opening to the play but also serves to remind us how much of Julius Caesar is about factions (Brutus even uses the word to describe the conspirators). Obviously, the conspiracy against Caesar the main one, but Dromgoole brings out the tensions between Brutus and Cassius and Antony and Octavius too - you can already sense the conflict that will erupt in Antony and Cleopatra.
It's a great opening and the production slightly loses momentum after that. The main problem is that neither Anthony Howell's Cassius nor Tom McKay's Brutus really capture the sense of disillusion with Caesar. Brutus is a complex character, torn between duty to a friend and loyalty to Rome, and McKay doesn't convey any of that anguish.
"What comes out strongly are undertones of Marlon Brando's Godfather"
On the other hand, Luke Thompson, as a highly slippery Antony, continues the excellent impression he made last year as Lysander. He presents himself as a slight figure – hungover on the morning of the assassination – with little moral or political authority. It's a portrayal that make sense; why otherwise would Brutus let this "masker and reveller" speak in the marketplace? Thompson, who handles the funeral scene superbly, breathes life into Antony, letting us see him grow into a figure of some clout.
Among the rest of the cast, there's an archly camp Casca from Christopher Logan and Katy Stephens is a strong Calpurnia, before enjoying herself hugely as a sort of Roman Madame Defarge, leading the citizens' bloody revenge.
Perhaps the strongest performance though George Irving's excellent Caesar, with just the right mix of arrogance and suspicion. What comes out strongly are undertones of Marlon Brando's Godfather. Then again, the ever-shifting alliances and distrust of the close-at-hand are reminiscent of all Mafia dramas. The story of Julius Caesar is a constant reminder that friends can quickly turn to enemies and Dromgoole's production does well to capture that atmosphere of fear and distrust.
Julius Caesar runs in rep at the Globe