JULIUS CAESAR by WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, a Royal Shakespeare Company production, is running at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon until 9 September 2017, before transferring to the Barbican Theatre, London, 24 November 2017 until 20 January 2018
The RSC’s latest production of Julius Caesar, directed by Angus Jackson, is a traditional take on one of the classics of Shakespeare’s history plays. With every promise to be a powerful production, does it succeed?
In the strive perhaps to produce naturalistic dialogue as a contrast to more staid and traditional productions, what this production actually achieves is tedium and loss of meaning in some of the most famed speeches from the play. In fact, the first half was so tedious that I nearly fell asleep at one point and I was particularly tired. At 3 hours long, it needs to maintain the audience’s engagement. The drama is slow to build, peaks intensity at Caesar’s assassination, and loses energy thereafter. Speeches such as “Romans, countrymen…” passes without note or weight. The cast runs through their lines insignificantly, and if not that, they shout them, paired with big, dramatic gestures. In fact, the play is about 2/3 men shouting at one another. I was genuinely concerned for Cassius (Martin Hutson), who constantly shouts and strains, to the point of tense muscles being visible on his neck. Clearly an impassioned performance, but not consistently effective.
The characters lack distinction. Alex Waldmann’s Brutus is underwhelming, while Cassius is overwhelming and almost too earnest; Andrew Woodall lacks dimension in his portrayal of Julius Caesar; however, James Corrigan as wily and cunning Mark Anthony is the strongest of the male cast and perhaps would have been a better casting choice for Brutus.
There were some thought-provoking moments, such as the fickleness of the mob, who yo-yo between supporting Brutus or Mark Anthony, depending on who appears to represent what they want – a worrying example of populism at its worst. The saving graces of the production are Hannah Morrish as Portia, whose only speech is not only powerful and beguiling but also allows Brutus to show some rare moments of humour; and Kristin Atherton as Calphernia, the only other speaking female role, who provokes sympathy in her anxiety for her husband’s life as rumours spiral about Caesar’s fate. In a way, the true star of the show for me was Brutus’s servant, a little boy, constantly at his heel and who sang Brutus to sleep incredibly sweetly part-way through the play.
This production is traditional, solid and safe perhaps; but it lacks the intensity and thrillingness that the work should possess. Shakespeare’s words, which are full of wit and energy on the page, fail to come to life.