The scale of this production is beyond description, the ambition beyond measure and the enjoyment it filled me with beyond expression, The Royal Shakespeare Theatre came alive with colour, sound, spit, sweat and passion in one of the best Shakespearean plays and two of the best hours you could spend in a theatre.
Julius Caesar is a challenging play about changing allegiances, the ficklety of power and the temporary nature of government, themes familiar in these turbulent political times. In Greg Doran’s startling production the action has been moved from ancient Rome to modern day Africa a continent which has seen its fair share of violent uprisings and humanitarian crises. Whats is so clever about this re-imagining is that the rhetoric fits so effortlessly with news reports from the region, placing you instantly in the Ugandan, Rwandan or Congolese regimes which wrought such tyranny on the continent. It also places a shadow over Julius Caesar (Jeffery Kissoon) and Mark Anthony (Ray Fearon) and the way they are running or intend to run the state in the first place. Large iconography and posters hint at something much more sinister and plant the seed of doubt in the audiences mind even before the midnight whisperings of Brutus (Paterson Joseph) and Cassius (Cyril Nri).
It is not really a surprise to say that the acting company is strong, of course it is, its the RSC, but what is staggering is just how strong. There wasn’t a single clanger, or line out of place, every word was audible and every word mattered. Ray Fearon’s Mark Anthony was bold and strong, with a confident swagger and a smirk which made him more unlikable than endearing, he delivered his speeches with a ferocious passion which couldn’t help but blow you away. Cyril Nri was amazing as Caius Cassius, who is at the fore of the revolution and one of the leading voices behind the despicable deed. There are beautifully delivered performances from Simon Manyonda as the fragile and sleepy Lucius, Theo Ogundipe as the mysterious Soothsayer and Ann Ogbomo as Calpurnia and Adjoa Andoh as Portia who make their small female parts powerful influences on their husbands and the course of the play.
But the evening belongs to Paterson Joseph who is breathtaking. I once saw him perform as Othello at the Manchester Royal Exchange and was so affected by his performance and that of Andy Serkis that it changed the course of my career and placed my ambitions firmly in the dramatic world. His performance in this piece re-affirms my desire. He is charming but ruthless, reluctant but assured and passionate but in equal measure stoic. His is a performance which encompasses everything which made me fall in love with theatre, he in short, stole the stage.
My only criticism would be of the manikin which replaces Julius Caesar for the famous funeral scene which bears no resemblance to the actor at all – particularly in the small matter of skin pigmentation. This does not detract from the show but it does take the eye away from where it should be, I found myself asking why the actor could not just lie there himself rather than focusing on the words of the speech.
This is a landmark production and it delivers on every level. Doran’s setting is flawless and the transition from Rome to Africa is inspired, the cast are fabulous and the play itself offers some incredible insights into paranoia and power thirsty young men.
Julius Caesar is being performed at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre until 7th July 2012 then at:
Newcastle Theatre Royal – 19 – 28 July
Noel Coward Theatre – 8 August – 15 September
Waterside Theatre Aylesbury – 19 – 22 September
Alhambra Theatre Bradford – 25 – 29 September
The Lowry Salford – 2 – 6 October
Norwich Theatre Royal – 16 – 20 October
Cardiff New Theatre – 23 – 27 October
FOR MORE INFORMATION OR TO BOOK TICKETS PLEASE CLICK HERE