Et tu, Billington? Julius Caesar review round-up
Nicholas Hytner's promenade production stars Ben Whishaw, David Morrissey and Michelle Fairley
Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage
"The crowd, who form the plebs and the mob, have to work quite hard: holding up posters, cheering, lying on the floor..."
"Bunny Christie's design is a miracle in this promenade setting. Using platforms that rise and fall, she sets the scene with simple props and evocative stage dressing..."
"Hytner's concept is to hint at contemporary relevance without ever laying it on with a trowel. This Julius Caesar is both topical and universal. This yields particular dividends in the playing of Ben Whishaw's Brutus, a charismatic but fatally flawed liberal thinker."
"Both Whishaw and David Morrissey as Antony give detailed, insightful performances, drawing every twist of thought and emotion from their parts... As a gender-shifting Cassius, Fairley is equally powerful."
"The whole thing, with its loud soundscape, blinding explosions, and fierce sense of drama fairly zips along, coming in at around two hours, without an interval. It's visceral and invigorating and made me feel Julius Caesar is a play worth watching. Which is quite an achievement."
Michael Billington, The Guardian
"Like Shakespeare's Mark Antony, Nicholas Hytner is a 'shrewd contriver'. He has created a promenade, modern-dress production of this suddenly fashionable Roman play that is both viscerally exciting and intellectually subtle."
"Hytner's approach also throws into sharp relief the divisions among the conspirators. Ben Whishaw plays Brutus excellently as the archetypal bookish intellectual stronger on revolutionary theory than practice."
"While mining the text for modern parallels, Hytner stages the play with real visual flair. Standing spectators are shunted around the arena like the manipulated Roman mob. Bunny Christie has cleverly solved the design problem by creating ramps and platforms that rise from the floor to elevate the actors."
Ann Treneman, The Times
"It begins as a rally... "Do This!" shout the placards as red flags wave and the rock band gees up the crowd with "We're Not Gonna Take It" by Twisted Sister."
"The band, all actors (Trebonius, aka Abraham Popoola, is the lead singer), are rocking the casbah. It feels very Labour or even (those placards!) Lib Dem."
"Nicholas Hytner directs a populist production of a play about populism. It's two hours straight through, which adds to the intensity. Everything in the staging is larger than life: the weather is apocalyptic, the military battles deafening, the politics diabolical."
Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
"Where the RSC recently went for old-school togas and sandals, Hytner leaves us in no doubt he wants to hold a mirror up to our own age. Red baseball caps, along with T-shirts, badges and other items, are on-sale during a festive prelude... Wearing jacket and red tie, golf-course casual, Calder's aged Caesar arrives and tosses his cap into the herd."
"While there are moments that acquire a decidedly Donald-esque resonance... Hytner doesn't box the show in. The accents are English, and when the action spirals into civil war the argument broadens, the minutely realised mayhem and bloody horror of conflict evoking the brutal unravelling of the Arab Spring revolutions."
"Racing through Shakespeare's tragedy at one fell swoop of two hours, does the show veer on becoming too frenzied by half? Perhaps – but that's the realistic speed, Hytner powerfully suggests, of modern-day political cataclysms."
Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out
"Caesar (David Calder) is an applause-loving old ham with a natty line in red MAGA-style baseball caps. He is not exactly Donald Trump, but the parallels are pretty apparent and he shares the tangerine tyrant's desperation for the adulation of the mob."
"Hytner doesn't labour the lecturing in a production that for the most part unfolds like a chic, glossy spy thriller, contrasting Caesar's brash rule with the irresistible gathering momentum of the conspiracy against him... And it's all tremendously gripping. Or at least it was standing up – I can't speak for how it looks from the seats."
"Truth be told, the thrillerish aesthetic slightly founders in the final half hour... but this isn't uncommon in productions of this play, and Hytner keeps it all barrelling along at such a pace that you barely notice a drop-off as it whizzes by with all the sickening lurch of twenty-first century politics."
Natasha Tripney, The Stage
"[Hytner] resists relocating things wholesale to Donald Trump's America, rather he focuses on the mechanics of populism and the cult of the leader – with some cracking battle scenes thrown in for good measure."
"David Calder's Caesar is more dignified than the current incumbent of the White House, more statesman-like. He works the crowd well, but there's also a sense he's going through the motions."
"Whishaw's Brutus has the air of a man older than his years... What he lacks, though, is the instinctual understanding of the crowd that David Morrissey's Mark Antony displays."
"The battle scenes that follow the funereal speechmaking can often be a bit tedious. Here they're made to feel kinetic and enveloping, thanks to the combined efforts of Hytner, designer Bunny Christie and lighting designer Bruno Poet. There are clouds of smoke, rains of debris and a hazy orange glow."
Julius Caesar runs at the Bridge Theatre until 15 April.