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 stand out.
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.