May 11, 2006, by Peter Kirwan

Julius Caesar (RSC) @ The Royal Shakespeare Theatre

First of all, I’m going to quickly rave about the value of the seat I got. For £5, I was in the fifth row, relatively central and right in front of the stage. It was the best view I’ve ever had in the theatre! And, even better, I’ve got the same seat booked for a number of other performances. The great thing about the £5 ticket offer for 16-25 year olds is that it’s not just the cheap seats at the back- some of the seats are the best in the house.

(by the way, the RSC aren’t paying me to advertise this! I’m just incredibly glad that an offer exists which allows a struggling student to afford to indulge himself in so much theatre!)

On another interesting note about the performance of Caesar that I saw- it had no interval. The first couple of performances did have one, but the director decided to try it without, and just do it as a 2 hour 20 minute straight-through performance. Chatting to a steward at the end they explained that they were trialling it for a couple of nights to see how it worked, so only time will tell. I liked it as a single act, though- it kept up the pace and immediacy of the growing conflict, and really didn’t seem too long. I don’t know what the rest of the audience thought, though.

The third RSC production of the Festival, this time directed by Sean Holmes. And, unfortunately, not the most engaging of the three. Maybe it was the relative shortness of the production, maybe the fact it was only the fifth or sixth performance, maybe it was just that there have been so many top-class productions in the last month, but this one just didn’t seem as good.

There were some great moments, though. The spectacular rainstorm which drenched the stage in water was a highlight, as were James Hayes’ Caesar and Mariah Gayles’ Portia. Finbar Lynch made for an interesting Cassius too- his distinctive, hesitating style of delivery took some getting used to, but the ambiguity of his motives and his general shiftiness were great to watch. Comic relief came from Joseph Alessi’s camp Casca, a joy in the early scenes.

The violence was also done extremely well. Caesar’s death, drawing on material from contemporary sources, was prolonged and bloody, the murderers remaining in their soiled clothes until after the orations scene. Caesar’s body remained a presence on the stage for a long time too, eventually rising and staring at its persecutors, and then returning periodically throughout the play to haunt them. The descent into darkness was therefore strongly underpinned.

This was presumably completely unintentional, but I really enjoyed the idea of Antony being on crutches. What could have been a difficulty for Ariyon Bakare, newly returned to the company after his accident, became an advantage, turning his Antony into a wounded hero, with more than a hint of the wounded animal who becomes more dangerous as a result. Antony was sorely underestimated by the conspirators because of his disability, which made his sudden emergence in the oration scenes even more of a shock to them. I’m perhaps reading too much into this, but in my opinion it really worked, and I think it’d be good to keep him on crutches even when he’s healed!!

It was in the oration scenes, though, that the play lost a little of its drive. While the orations were fine, delivered from a high sloping platform practically overhanging the front row, they lacked the people-shaking power that is normally associated with them- not because of the speakers, but because of the crowd. The company, far upstage, jostled, argued, shouted and reacted just like a normal crowd- with the result that their reactions didn’t seem particularly motivated by what was happening downstage. Antony would scream for silence, but then not get it for quite some time. While this is possibly more natural, onstage it seemed like neither he or Brutus could actually hold their attention.

Having seen the same company perform ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ a few weeks ago, there were a few interesting comparisons to make. James Hayes, Lepidus in ‘Antony’, is now Julius. Antony is now played by the (recovered, but still on crutches) Ariyon Bakare. The Octavia of ‘Antony’ is the Portia of ‘Julius’. It’s fascinating to see the actors build bridges between their characters, to recognise faces and to adjust to their new role. This company are going on to do ‘The Tempest’ next, so doubtless there will be more links to be made.

I’ve rabbited on long enough now. Don’t get me wrong- it was good, definitely good. Just not as good as the others.

Posted in Theatre review