Julius Caesar - theatre review

Posted on: 04 September 2012 by Gareth Hargreaves

Laurence Green impressed by Shakepeare's classic tale of betrayal and strife set in a fictional African state

Julius CaesarA lethal game of power politics is played out against a vibrant, bustling African setting in Gregory Doran’s take on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (Noel Coward Theatre), performed by an all black cast in the RSC’s imaginative new production.

Julius Caesar has returned triumphant from the war against Pompey the Great. The Republic prepares to heap him with new honours, causing concern and dismay among some senators who fear too much power is held by one man.

Gaius Cassius plots a conspiracy to murder Caesar, enlisting the support of well-respected Marcus Brutus. Brutus has misgivings but is persuaded that Caesar’s death is necessary for the good of the Republic. However, he rejects Cassius’s proposal that Mark Antony, a close friend of Caesar, should be killed.

Disregarding the prophetic dream of his wife, Calpurnia, Caesar goes to the Capital on the Ides of March, where Brutus, Cassius and their co-conspirators stab him to death. At Caesar’s funeral Brutus addresses the people and successfully explains the conspirators’ motives. However, Mark Antony speaks next and turns the mob against the conspirators, who are forced to flee.

Mark Antony and Caesar’s nephew, Octavius, take command and level an army against the conspirators.

In relocating the personality cult of Caesar and the bloody struggle for democracy from ancient Rome to a post-colonial African state with dictatorship, followed by regime change, chaos and civil war startling resonances occur in the murder stories of Iraq, Syria, Zimbabwe, Uganda, and much of modern Africa.

Designer Michael Vale evokes the atmosphere strongly, too, with a vast, Soviet-style statue of Caesar dominating the crumbling steps of some municipal edifice. It constantly reminds us that even after his death, Caesar’s legacy – internecine strife – sways the action.

Director Gregory Doran drains impressive performances from his RSC ensemble, in particular Jeffrey Kissoon, strutting about in a white linen suit, hiding self-doubt behind outward bluster, as Caesar, Ray Fearon who as Mark Antony reveals the calculating player behind the vaulting display of rhetoric, Cyril Nri as a scheming, feline Cassius, and Paterson Joseph who brings a complex ambiguity to the role of Brutus.

This is certainly a production you will not forget in a hurry!

Runs until September 15
Box office: 0844 482 5141

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