Thursday, 5 November 2009

Julius Caesar - RSC at Theatre Royal, Newcastle

Julius Caesar
Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Lucy Bailey
Reviewer: Ian Cain

Lucy Bailey directs an edgy and visually impressive production of Shakespeare’s Roman tragedy that has much to boast about, keeping the audience very much on the edge of their seats throughout the entire performance of just under three hours.

The RSC are renowned for the boldness of their productions and the staging is always stunningly simplistic, yet thoroughly original. ‘Julius Caesar’ is a classic example of this.Ancient Rome is recreated by projecting the same crowd scene onto six gauze screens, which looks infinitely more successful than it sounds when described, and William Dudley is to be congratulated for its overall effectiveness. Much of the rest of the stage is kept starkly bare, allowing the focus to stay rooted upon the action of the performers.

Sam Troughton gives a compelling performance as Marcus Brutus, the honourable man who is embroiled in the plot to assassinate Julius Caesar by powerful persuasion from Caius Cassius, a series of forged letters, his own misgivings that Caesar may be growing too powerful, and a misguided belief that the death of the leader would benefit the republic. John MacKay instils an earnest persuasiveness into his Cassius and it is easy for the audience to see how and why Brutus joined the assassination conspiracy, which is to take place on the Ides of March.

However, the night before the deed is due to be done, Calphurnia (Noma Dumezweni), Caesar’s wife, wakes from a prophetic nightmare and begs Caesar not to go to the Capitol. Dismissing his wife’s pleading, the arrogant Caesar (Greg Hicks) goes ahead with his arrangements and is subsequently stabbed to death.

At Ceasar’s funeral, both Marcus Brutus and Mark Antony (Darrell D’Silva) address the crowd and public opinion quickly turns against Brutus, Cassius and their fellow conspirators, forcing them to flee Rome in fear of their lives.
Mark Antony and Octavius (Joseph Arkley), Caesar’s nephew, amass an army and set out to take on the forces gathered by Cassius and Brutus. Meanwhile, at Philippi, Brutus is continually haunted by apparitions of the murdered leader and begins to regret his involvement in the plot. After meeting on the battlefield, the conspirators and their supporters are, ultimately defeated, and both Cassius and Brutus take their own lives.

The corruption, intrigue and betrayal of the events of Ancient Rome in 44BC are a heady mix that is completely absorbing. The technical aspects of this production are absolutely outstanding: Sarah Dowling and Philip D’Orleans have done a fantastic job in carefully choreographing the movement and fight scenes, respectively and Fontini Dimou’s costume design is a marvellous fusion of period and contemporary. The lighting, by Oliver Fenwick, and sound design, by Fergus O’Hare, add an increased sense of drama to pivotal scenes.
‘Julius Caesar’ is a worthy production that represents all that an evening at the theatre should be.

Runs until Saturday 7 November 2009.
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