Julius Caesar at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
It must be the Shakespeare in Love effect but there were queues round the block for return tickets to the opening production of this year's Globe season. And for real verisimilitude, it was an all-male cast (and this time there was no Gwyneth Paltrow masquerading as an actor).
Julius Caesar was chosen because it's believed to be the first production staged at the Globe - certainly, it was being shown 400 years ago. It's a strange play to choose, however, as there's no doubt that Shakespeare runs out of steam in the final act.
Audience participation is always an important part of Globe productions and this one kicks off in a lively manner with cast members in the audience for the opening scene.
This opening, at least, has the ring of authenticity, according to director Mark Rylance (sorry, the Master of the Play) the opening production of the play comprised a cast of just 15, so for the crowd scenes, the audience is an integral part of the production - never a problem with the Globe.
But what is a problem is the insistence that the play is performed in modern dress, Rylance has taken this to mean that actors appear in Elizabethan costume. Fair enough, however this attempt at verisimilitude is hampered by the appearance of members of the cast in modern dress while the assassins and Caesar don togas for the Senate.
Unfortunately, this is not the only sour note in the production. The small cast list means that the same actors appear in many parts, making it hard to keep track of what's going on - although this makes for a pleasing symmetry when the actor who played Caesar is the same one who plays Brutus's killer.
As for the acting, this is a genuine mixed bag. Danny Sapani's Brutus is a strange mixture of noble dignity and complete inaudibility, although to be fair, it must be hard making oneself heard over the sound of modern jumbo jets. Not a problem for Richard Bremmer's Cassius, although one does wonder if someone who makes every point at full volume can really be the person to put together a conspiracy - they must have heard him in Pompeii.
There are several plus points however, Paul Shelley's Caesar is a virile, all-action soldier, fighting back valiantly against his assailants, Mark Lewis Jones makes a devious Mark Antony, highly persuasive in the 'Friends, Romans' speech. And Toby Cockerell makes a realistic Portia and is an even better Octavius, playing the part of the petulant schoolboy to perfection.
All in all, an average start to the Globe season. There is an unrivalled atmosphere here which makes virtually every production appealing, but this was not the play to keep the punters enraptured - there were some very bored faces by the fifth act.