Touring – reviewed at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon
Guest reviewer: Amarjeet Singh
Shakespeare’s timeless political thriller, Julius Caesar, tells a woeful tale of a group of Roman senators who plot to assassinate Caesar as they fear his growing power and ambition. Brutus joins a conspiracy led by Cassius to murder Caesar, to prevent him from becoming a tyrant. Despite warnings from a soothsayer and the dreams of his wife, Caesar’s defiance results in his betrayal and he is overthrown. The aftermath leads to a power struggle in Rome as the conspirators are hunted down by those who seek justice for Caesar.
Julius Caesar’s arresting opening, with sinister music, lupine shrieks, projections depicting disturbing monochromatic images and unsettling dance, sets the tone for a haunting and raw experience. In director Atri Banerjee’s bold interpretation, you will not find anything traditionally Roman, no togas, laurel wreaths or sandals. This is a modern, minimalist, moody take on the machinations and misdeeds of men… and in this production, women.
Still controversial to some, the decision to cast actors regardless of their gender is completely validated. Thalissa Teixeira plays Brutus with a clarity and conflict which brings layers to the performance. When presented with the task of killing for one’s beliefs and the greater good, she is tormented. Her character unfolds as things unravel yet her dignity never waivers.
For this performance Cassius was played by Annabel Baldwin. They usually play the role of Soothsayer, but due to the indisposition of Kelly Gough, they slotted seamlessly into the role. Baldwin’s Cassius was persuasive and powerful, but in an understated way, building in increasing emotional despair as the play progressed. There was a beautiful moment when the two, faced with impending defeat, alone on stage, connected and delivered a performance so powerful, I was dumbstruck for a moment.
Gina Isaac’s Decius is deliciously deceptive. The charismatic combination of cunning and charm is played to perfection. A standout is Ella Dacres as Octavius Caesar. Poised, measured and commanding, every word she spoke held gravitas.
William Robinson is a youthful Mark Antony and played him with a fiery verve. He delivers the ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen’, speech to perfection and he combines well with Dacres to play the grief stricken right handman of Caesar. Jamal Ajala’s Lucius performance and his interactions with Brutus and Portia are amongst the production’s most original moments. He doesn’t speak throughout the play and instead uses sign language. This adds an interesting dimension to the performance as a whole.
This production of Julius Caesar is a seriously stripped-down performance, focusing more on the connection between characters than on elaborate costume, props and sets. The main set consists of a revolving cube. On one side is a wall which images are projected upon, the internal structure of the cube shifts but is sparse, the characters give these spaces meaning and context. For the slaying of Caesar, hands replace blades and black fluid is blood. A stained shirt is left in place of Caesar’s dead body and the rest is left to our imagination.
This production is creative and original but there are some areas which leave room for improvement. The consequences of plotting and conspiring against Caesar was lacking and rushed. It was missing the clarity needed to understand the motivations of the conspirators whose actions are pivotal to the narrative. This may be, in part, because the portrayal of Caesar did not convey his mass appeal, power, and despot spiralling. Without those fundamental underpinnings the rest of the play can come across as confusing to audiences.
This aside, the production is dynamic and refreshing. Atri Banerjee’s directorial debut for the company is a brave, brilliant and bold experience, bringing this 400-year-old play bounding on to the stage in a way that has never been seen before but is most definitely a must see.
Julius Caesar is on a 9 date UK Tour:
Thursday 20 – Saturday 22 April, The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury
Tuesday 25 April – Saturday 29 April, Hall for Cornwall, Truro
Tuesday 2 May – Saturday 6 May, Alhambra, Bradford
Tuesday 9 – Saturday 13 May, Theatre Royal, Newcastle
Tuesday 16 – Saturday 20 May, Grand Theatre, Blackpool
Tuesday 23 – Saturday 27 May, Theatre Royal, Nottingham
Tuesday 6 – Saturday 10 June, Theatre Royal, Norwich
Tuesday 13 – Saturday 17 June, York Theatre Royal
Tuesday 20 – Saturday 24 June, The Lowry, Salford
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