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Julius Caesar (RSC)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Is Julius Caesar a play about the struggle for tyranny or a warning to conspirators as to what will happen when the natural order is overturned? Or is it, as Lucy Bailey’s production suggests a play that portrays what happens in a society where violence is the natural scheme of things?

Anyone who saw Bailey’s version of Macbeth at the Globe would be well aware that she’s not shy about gore. There’s blood right from the start, with an opening scene of Romulus or Remus engaged in their bloody fight to the death. The implication is plain: Rome is a particularly bloody place, founded on violence and maintained by violence.

All of which makes Sam Troughton’s pensive, softly-spoken Brutus more impressive; much more of a philosopher than a man of action, he seemed strangely out of place in such a bloody world. I was less impressed by John Mackay’s Cassius, who seemed to driven neither by idealism nor ambition but seemed more fired by peevishness. But there’s a very strong Antony from Darrell D'Silva – almost too strong, would the conspirators really want a man with such a mix of machismo and animal cunning left to his own devices? Oliver Ryan is an almost psychotic Casca, certainly not someone I’d have wanted standing behind me.

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. And did William Dudley’s set really have to include a monument with “Veni, vidi, vici” on it? It’s almost as if it was decided to have some Latin on the set somewhere. But 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 but it’s a production that touches on the inherent cruelty of Roman life, where a man could be lynched for having the wrong name. 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.

- Maxwell Cooter

This FOUR-STAR review is from the production's run at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon in September 2009.

Lucy Bailey’s debut production with the Royal Shakespeare Company concludes the first season for the brand new 2009-2011 ensemble of actors; who will take to take the stage at the Courtyard and, once completed, the newly refurbished Royal Shakespeare Theatre over the next two years.

In this political Roman saga, in which we see the plot and eventual assassination of Caesar himself, the ensemble prove themselves to be more than able to tackle the bards works with flare and skill.

Standing at the forefront of the cast is Greg Hicks; who assumes the title role fresh from playing the lead, Leontes, in The Winter's Tale. Hicks once again proves himself to be a powerful and commanding player, with an exciting potential to take on some of Shakespeare’s most challenging pieces with his captivating delivery of dialogue and physical presence.

Sam Throughton makes for a quietly calculating Brutus as he plots the demise of Caesar. Later in the play we share more of Brutus’s anxieties in Troughton’s darting, bulging eyes and fast paced patterns of speech, as his plans and plots reach boiling point.

The design of the piece is its particular pillar of strength. William Dudley’s clever projection designs assist the cast in conjuring an epic Rome. Several pivoting video screens allow for the actors on stage to be multiplied in order to create vast crowds of roman citizens or threatening hordes of armed soldiers.

The rich pallet of rustic browns, reds, and blues created in Oliver Fenwick’s lighting design compliment the projections and help to re-create a Rome at War.

My main problem with the production, all-in-all, is the piece itself. Unlike Shakespeare’s usual bubbling narrative, made up of sub-plots and intricate touches to the story; Caesar runs in a predictable straight line. We follow the plot of Cassius and Brutus, the eventual assassination of Caesar, and then the subsequent battle with Mark Anthony with nothing much more added to the story- unusual of Shakespeare’s usual twisting narratives.

However, Bailey has created a bustling Rome on the thrust staged Courtyard that is inevitably exciting. The prologue of the blood thirsty founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus is the perfect bedrock to the violence that ensues on stage.

- Ben Wooldridge


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