The clash, colour and vim with which this Julius Caesar bursts into life is in stark contrast to the enervating drabness of David Farr’s 2004 production at the Swan. ‘Mechanicals’ in vivid hued, middle eastern-style dress, sound serpentines, pound drums and adorn a mannequin of Caesar.
But the revels are quickly ended and what follows, on a stage heavily under lit with figures emerging from and receding into blackness at the rear of the performance space, is in stark contrast. Small orbs, suspended from lengths of chain, are the only props. Often, members of the cast not engaged in current stage business look on, indistinct and mute witnesses, from the back.
It’s swift-footed, clearly staged production which eschews any extravagant directorial concepts or wilful updating. This is a Rome of togas and swords, not blackshirts, swastikas and guns.
Unfortunately, what follows only intermittently lives up to the impact of the opening and Sean Holmes’ production is marred by some poor contributions from key members of the cast. Chief culprit here is John Light as Brutus who is wild and whirling from the first, even before Finbar Lynch’s Cassius gets to work on him. The problem with starting at number 11, as it were, is that it gives Brutus nowhere to go but even more over the top, as happens in the subsequent scene in which he and his Portia, played by Mariah Gale, clash with exaggerated and unseemly passion over his secret business. “I see passion is catching”, Light at one point observes with unintended irony.
Elsewhere, others struggle with delivering their lines clearly. Lynch as Cassius is well cast, devious and with more than ‘something of the night’ about him; but he is prone to muffling his lines and his character never really fully swims into focus. Ariyon Bakare as Mark Antony, unfortunately handicapped by crutches because of a foot injury, is clearly-spoken but is also often over-excited.
It is left to Golda Rosheuvel as Calpurnia, passionate in a measured way and beautifully spoken, to show how Shakespeare should be communicated. James Hayes too is a decent Caesar, less self-assured than his posturing would suggest, his braggadocio constantly teetering on the verge of self-doubt.
- Pete Wood