JULIUS CAESAR: William Shakespeare
RSC, Stratford Upon Avon, The Swan
Runs: 2h 40m, one interval
Review: Rod Dungate, 10th December 2004

Rough-hewn; mightily intelligent political debateJULIUS CAESAR was written at a time of intense political foment and debate. Director, David Farr, and his designer, Ti Green, have taken this on board and this Elizabethan play becomes an incredibly exciting and accessible debate about 21st Century politics. Of course it isn’t only the chosen setting that makes the difference the whole production is carefully orchestrated to achieve its effect; but the setting is a major factor.

The set itself is sparse, rough-looking. Projections on rapidly hung fabric create the effect of politics in our media age. Costumes well-worn leather jackets, black suits, combats although quite ordinary in themselves, uncannily put us in mind of Eastern European countries. The set uses bare lights often bare florescent tubes that flicker on an off; their flickering is reproduced in electrical crackling reminding us of the storm that precedes Caesar’s appearance at the Senate. The crackling becomes the storm; but the electrical sound is metaphorical as well as real.

Christopher Saul’s Caesar is intriguing. Saul cuts an imposing figure yet there is nothing grand about his character. We sense Saul’s Caesar is important, rather; he is concerned for his own image and balances a genuine concern for his people with a self-seeking desire for self-aggrandisement.

Adrian Schiller’s Cassius is marvellous. In the opening scenes he seems so tightly stretched even his skin appears translucent. There is a wound up tension within him that gives him a thrillingly dangerous edge. I was less convinced to begin with by Zubin Varla’s Brutus; his much admired inner-stillness appeared imposed. However, as the play moves on, it becomes clear that it’s Brutus who has imposed the stillness the Stoicism if you like not Varla. This Brutus is not immediately likeable but he grows on you hugely. The long argument between Cassius and Brutus is a marvellous dramatic high spot.

Gary Oliver’s Mark Anthony fits beautifully within this production’s often cynical (realistic??) view of politics. You’re never quite sure whether he’s genuine or a lout that’s made it up the ladder with a natural intelligence and an eye on the best chance. The staging of his funeral oration uses cameras to home in on and broadcast for the masses, Caesar’s wounds. It is, like much else in the production, multi-layered.

Among all this excellence and consistency of approach it beggars belief why Farr should have taken it into his head to insert an awful, irrelevant and unhelpful little song early on in the second half. The actors looked as embarrassed doing it as the audience did hearing it. Please, please drop it.

However, mercifully it doesn’t last long and this strong production is soon on its roll again.

Julius Caesar: Christopher Saul
Marcus Brutus: Zubin Varla
Caius Cassius: Adrian Schiller
Casca: Philip Edgerley
Decius Brutus: Alex Avery
Cinna: Merryn Owen
Trebonius: Clifford Samuel
Metellus Cimber: Richard Copestake
Caius Ligarius: Richard Clews
Cicero: Patrick Romer
Polilius Lena: Andrew Melville
Artemidorus: Simon Scott
Octavius Caesar/ The Soothsayer: Laurence Mitchell
Mark Antony: Gary Oliver
Lepidus: Patrick Romer
Flavius: Richard Clews
Murellus: Simon Scott
Portia: Rachel Pickup
Calphurnia: Brigid Zengeni
Cinna the Poet: Andrew Melville
Lucius: Simon Watts
Antony’s Servant: Vanessa Ackerman
Octavius’ Servant: Endy MkKay
Caesar’s Servant: Emma Powell

Directed by: David Farr
Designed by: Ti Green
Lighting Designed by: Neil Austin
Music Composed by: Keith Clouston
Sound Designed by: Martin Slavin
Film and Movement by: Mark Murphy
Fights Directed by: Terry King
Assistant Directors: Hanna Berrigan/ Gemma Fairlie
Music Director: Malcolm Newton
Production Voice Work by: David Carey

2004-12-13 21:45:03

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