WhatsOnStage Logo
Review Round-Ups

Review Round-up: Did critics hail Donmar's Caesar?

WhatsOnStage logo
The all-female production of Julius Caesar at the Donmar Warehouse opened this week (4 December 2012, previews from 29 November).

Shakespeare's raw and eternal study of power features in the cast Harriet Walter, Frances Barber and Jenny Jules, amongst others, and is directed by Phyllida Lloyd.

It runs at the Donmar Warehouse until 9 February 2013.

Maxwell Cooter

…Barber portrays Caesar as a strutting bully, someone clearly used to getting her own way…It's a strong performance but lacking in subtlety…The standout is Harriet Walter's Brutus. She captures all of the contrasting elements of the character, especially his/her inherent nobility. She speaks the verse beautifully too, making this a Brutus we can empathise with. She's well complemented by Jenny Jules' passionate Cassius: fire to Brutus' calm reason. The disappointment is Cush Jumbo's Antony which doesn't really encapsulate the character's slippery nature and grasp of political expediency…Bunny Christie's set, all grey walls and bare metal, is the perfect setting for the action and Gary Yershon's heavy-metal dominated score serves as appropriate accompaniment for the battle scenes…Lloyd has brought some fresh insights to this endlessly fascinating play - a production that surpasses what could have been gimmicky casting.

Michael Billington

…It is one thing to have an ingenious concept, another to carry it out. And Lloyd's production proves that female actors can bring a fresh perspective to traditionally male roles. The shining example is Harriet Walter's Brutus…But the acting all round is strong. Jenny Jules makes a fiery Cassius all too clearly aware of Brutus's errors…Cush Jumbo both relishes Mark Antony's slippery rhetoric and reminds us of the character's built-in arrogance. And Clare Dunne offers a striking double…This is not to say I like everything in the production…the stripped-down stage is resourcefully used and, above all, the production feels powerfully motivated: you feel these imprisoned women are impelled to present a play that deals with violence, conflict and the urge to overthrow any form of imposed authority.

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

...some of the acting is excellent, with the great Harriet Walter, sporting an exceptionally nifty haircut, in particularly strong and persuasive form as an often anguished and deeply sincere Brutus. She is well matched by Jenny Jules who splendidly captures both the intemperance and the emotional neediness of Cassius. Watching this pair at their best, you genuinely forget their gender and simply admire their acting, and the truth of their response to Shakespeare’s richly drawn characters. But Frances Barber is little more than a ranting, leering, pantomime villain as Julius Caesar, and it is a great relief when she gets her quietus…By the time the conspirators have pulled on bright red Marigold gloves to signify their bloodstained hands…one begins to feel that its not just Caesar who has been murdered but the play itself.

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

Phyllida Lloyd’s all-female Julius Caesar is extraordinarily bold… Bunny Christie’s set is hard, grey and grimy. CCTV cameras suggest the hum of activity offstage. Occasionally some of the performers launch into thrashy rock music, which echoes ominously…The action moves swiftly. It’s most arresting in the famous assassination scene…Frances Barber is a viciously bullying Caesar…Harriet Walter’s austere Brutus is a performance of riveting intricacy. Cush Jumbo’s Mark Antony is impassioned, yet she also at times has an unusual brooding stillness. Jenny Jules brings a raw derangement to Cassius…This strikes me as an important production. Lloyd pushes her vision very hard, perhaps to the detriment of its logic. The elaborate framing device of the play-within-a-play doesn’t quite work. But even it it’s not a Julius Caesar for purists, this is visceral and exciting theatre.

Libby Purves
The Times

…Bunny Christie’s design turns the Donmar into a prison gym…The echoes are harsh and jangling…As an interpretation it balances perfectly the central and marvellous performance of Harriet Walter as Brutus. Pale, chiselled, androgynous and tragic, her thoughtful, bright, dangerous eyes command every scene…Others stand out: Jenny Jules’s sulky Cassius, Cush Jumbo as a thoroughly ruthless Mark Antony, absent-mindedly shooting hooded prisoners during conversations, and little Carrie Rock, from the Clean Break ex-prisoners’ theatre group, as the vulnerable Soothsayer. From time to time the conceit of a prison rehearsal is reinforced by interruptions from staff or momentary losses of cool by performers. It isn’t overdone, but at the end comes a curious two-layered catharsis.

Tagged in this Story