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Review Round-up: Bailey's Bloody Julius Caesar

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The latest instalment of the Royal Shakespeare Company's Roundhouse season opened on Monday night (10 January 2011) with Lucy Bailey's Julius Caesar taking up a Camden residency 18 months after its Stratford-Upon-Avon production.

Bailey's bloody production, which runs until 5 February 2011, stars Sam Troughton as Brutus, John Mackay as Cassius and Darrell D'Silva as Mark Antony whilst Greg Hicks takes the title role.

The critics appear to have been impressed with the "gory" and "visceral" production, but did all buy into William Dudley's projected Roman design?

Maxwell Cooter

"Is Julius Caesar... as Lucy Bailey's production suggests a play that portrays what happens in a society where violence is the natural scheme of things ... There's blood right from the start ... The implication is plain: Rome is a particularly bloody place ... All of which makes Sam Troughton's pensive, softly-spoken Brutus more impressive ... I was less impressed by John Mackay's Cassius ... There's a very strong Antony from Darrell D'Silva ... Oliver Ryan is an almost psychotic Casca ... There are times when things are taken a bit too literally: dry ice heralds talk of "dank air" and the storm that presages the death of Caesar, seems to be a bit Hammer Horror-like ... The back projections of the crowd work well and the images of fire manage to convey a city in chaos after Caesar's assassination. This is not a Caesar for the faint-hearted ... There's a compelling ending too, with stage filled with writhing men, groaning for burial — as Antony predicted. And the brief glance between Octavian and Antony heralds the quarrel, and the bloodshed that was to come."

Michael Billington

"Lucy Bailey's production, much improved since its Stratford debut 18 months ago, now makes a good case for the play and strikes the right balance between the visceral and intellectual ... Bailey presents us with a city addicted to violence ... The assassination itself is a messy, prolonged affair in which Caesar turns on his attackers before ending in a pool of blood. William Dudley's design, which uses video images of smoking buildings and projects multiplying figures on to six pivoting screens, also helps to destroy the standard idea of Rome as a place of pristine marble and spotless togas ... Bailey now pays more attention to character... through the excellent performances of Sam Troughton and Greg Hicks ... I found myself believing the rumour that Brutus was Caesar's love-child ... Just occasionally, Bailey over-eggs the pudding ... But the play maintains its momentum in the second half ... For once, I felt Julius Caesar was a classic that didn't disappoint."

Libby Purves
The Times

"Bailey brings to the RSC Roundhouse season her thrilling production of Shakespeare’s most macho play . She uses minimal physical scenery and William Dudley’s artful projection moves us swiftly between scenes ... Individual living actors burst from the angled screens to speak, act or emote for all of them ... Bailey offers us a Rome not classically dignified but volatile, wolfish, superstitious and hysterical ... In Caesar’s short appearances Greg Hicks creates an unusually rounded man .. Sam Troughton's watchful and contained Brutus is as masterly ... Troughton stands in ascetic contrast to Oliver Ryan’s creepy, camp Casca and a sour skinny Cassius. The latter, I must say, is terrific: John Mackay plays the lean and hungry one at first with miffed mid-management dignity, spitting genteel outrage that his old mate Caesar should be considered a god ... The bravura moment, though, belongs to Darrell D'Silva’s muscular Mark Antony. Leapfrogging the perils of over-familiar lines, he delivers 'Friends, Romans, countrymen' as if he had just written it himself in ten minutes of shame and rage. You hold your breath."

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

"Immediately we see that this will be a rendition bristling with contrasts. Bailey is a director who doesn’t flinch from the visceral, and this is a Roman tragedy steeped in gore ... Designer William Dudley has created an impressive backdrop of video screens, which conjure up the urban multitudes. The interpretation seems influenced by the idioms of film, with the BBC and HBO’s ambitious TV series Rome an obvious point of reference. Yet perhaps even more relevant is Ridley Scott’s Gladiator with its opulent CGI ... The production is potent, and its cornerstone is a performance of great subtlety and dignity by Sam Troughton as Brutus... the 33-year-old is establishing himself as a Shakespearean actor of quietly expressive authority. Greg Hicks' Caesar is a study in arrogant intensity, while John Mackay’s Cassius is almost funereal in his manner until he slides into hysteria. Also compelling is Darrell D'Silva’s thuggish Mark Antony ... I’m not in love with the play but this is an arresting account of it."

Paul Taylor

"Mocking Brutus's high-minded need to believe that the conspirators will be 'sacrificers, but not butchers', the assassination scene is a protracted, messy shambles, a mixture of nightmare and farce as Greg Hicks' Caesar clings on to the bitter end under a frenzy of stabbing ... There's certainly no danger here that the play will be accused of offering a drily intellectual debate ... If anything, this staging veers too far to the opposite extreme ... The aim is evidently to maximise our awareness of the visceral nature of the drama but the flesh-and-blood presence of the citizens and soldiery seems to me to be drained, rather than reinforced, by the constant use of William Dudley's elaborate videos ... Darrell D'Silva's rabble-rousing wizardry as Antony is diminished, instead of intensified, by the badly timed raised fists of the on-screen wraith-like mob ... Sam Troughton plays Brutus as a naive, well-meaning, occasionally febrile liberal ... Greg Hicks, though, finds a streak of grim camp comedy in Caesar's here somewhat arch and petty-seeming attempts to conceal encroaching frailty behind a grandiose public image."

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

"Lucy Bailey’s RSC production has acquired additional power and resonance since it opened in Stratford in 2009 ... Bailey’s production is a traditional togas and sandals affair, but achieves epic impact with the high-tech device of filmed backdrops featuring great armies of soldiers and Roman citizens ... Greg Hicks... memorably suggests a man torn between personal fearfulness and his public persona of absolute power and confidence. Sam Troughton captures both the self-regarding rectitude and the disastrous political judgement of Brutus ... John Mackay has exactly the right lean and hungry look as the chippy Cassius ... but the finest work comes from Darrel D'Silva as Mark Antony. He comes on like an old roué with a disastrous hangover... his brilliant eloquence in the 'Friends, Romans, countrymen' speech, as he bends an initially hostile crowd to his will, proves theatrically thrilling. I have often found Julius Caesar one of the dullest of Shakespeare’s lays, but in this fast-paced, intelligent and stirring production it grips throughout."


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