Gregory Doran's production of Julius Caesar draws clear parallels between the political machinations of Caesar's Rome and the current political instability of African nations. The all-black cast, supported in pre-set and crowd scenes by a 'Community Chorus', lend the piece of sense of cultural identity which strengthens the notion of citizenship and community loyalty that one might have experienced in the Rome of the play.
Certainly the passion of this production is undeniable. The rejection by Brutus and Cassius of a slavery threatened by the 'crowning' of a dictator gives a deeper cause and reasoning to their perceived treachery, even if the evidence of Caesar's 'ambition' is not as apparent to we the audience as it is to the conspirators; but one cannot deny that Paterson Joseph and Cyril Nri imbue their characters with a sincere sense of justice and a need to act in good conscience for the benefit of their fellow citizens; they believe their convictions even if we are not convinced.
Jeffery Kissoon's Caesar is portrayed as something of a weak, vain man, less ambitious, more opportunistic and self involved. He is more concerned with image than action and it is his pride which leads him to ignore the portents and pleadings of the soothsayer and Calpurnia respectively, which ultimately results in his assassination.
There is much to appreciate in this production. Although inevitably the early section of the play is hampered by the need to set up the conspiracy which results in Caesar's death, once this pivotal event occurs the play gains significant momentum. This is thanks in no small part to Ray Fearon's masterful portrayal of Mark Anthony; at once a man of the people and a skilful manipulator and strategist, his "Friends, Romans, Countrymen..." address is the highlight of the evening. Full of passion, dripping with irony but never losing track of the fact that here is a man determined to exact justice for the wrong done to his "friend" and mentor.
Also worthy of mention are Adjoa Andoh and Ann Ogbomo, who play Portia and Calpurnia respectively, with a passion and integrity which linger long after they have left the stage.
Set against the backdrop of a huge statue of a leader in triumphant salute one cannot help but draw connections between the world of the play and modern day dictatorships; the toppling of the statue in the latter half is deeply reminiscent of the destruction of Sadam Hussein's edifice in 2003.
All in all, despite a slow start, the evening is both provocative and enjoyable; inviting us to recognise once again the basic humanity of Shakespeare's work in that it continues to resonate with each generation of theatregoers. Shakespeare's preoccupation with man's attempts to make sense of and engage in an everchanging world crosses generational, cultural and political boundaries, and this is clearly evident in Doran's lucid production.