Reviewed by James Karas
Julius Caesar seems superbly suited to the production style espoused by Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. The stagings in the “replica” of the original Globe Theatre on the South bank attempt to emulate as much as possible or is known of the theatrical practices of the Elizabethan era.
One of the practices was robust interaction with the audience, especially the groundlings or yardlings as they are called now, the several hundred people standing around the stage. Julius Caesar begins with a full-blooded scene with the Roman rabble but this production does not wait for that. There are people in Elizabethan costume mixing with the audience inside and outside the theatre before the performance begins.
When the performance starts, Director Dominic Dromgoole makes full use of the audience including having a number of exits and entrances through the middle of them. The antics of the Roman rabble amid the yardlings enhance the production without taking anything away from the fine performances.
Tom McKay plays an excellent Brutus. He is young, intense, with a fine voice and superior delivery of Shakespearean poetry. You sense Brutus’s strength, intelligence and decency even if he lacks Cassius’s cunning. The latter, played by Anthony Howell, has cunning and conspiratorial flair and one is never sure if his expression of love for anyone is genuine.
Luke Thompson fits the description of Mark Antony as the shrewd playboy who manages to arouse the rabble to mutiny. He does a great job in “Friends, Romans, Countrymen lend me your ears” but he shows scant emotion of first seeing the butchered Caesar.
Joe Jameson, like most of the cast, takes on several roles, but he is most notable as the petulant and arrogant Octavius.
I found George Irving’s Julius Caesar somewhat subdued, especially in an original practices production. I expected his arrogance to be more pronounced. He is murdered by the conspirators not for what he has done but for what he might do because of his overweening ambition. The latter was not sufficiently emphasized.
The murder of Caesar is surely one of the most famous scenes in history, especially as staged in productions of Shakespeare’s play. The conspirators stab Caesar and the blood-drenched man turns towards Brutus, the man he admires and loves like a son. He utters the short Latin phrase that has reverberated down the centuries as the ultimate expression of supreme betrayal: Et tu, Brute. Caesar says these words upon seeing Brutus but before he is stabbed by him. I think that reduces the effectiveness of the scene. It is possible that Brutus was not going to stab Caesar and the scene would be more dramatic if Brutus stabs him first and Caesar spouts the words in utter shock. After that there is nothing left but for him to fall and die.
This is a solid production despite the rambunctiousness of the crowd scenes. There is scant comedy in Julius Caesar and no comic character as such.
There is one touch that merits mention. In the final scene, Brutus has his servant Strato hold a sword and he runs onto it to meet his death. Quite sensibly, there is no running onto a sword in this production for fear that it may look ridiculous. But the Strato is played by the same actor who played Caesar. Thus there is an added poignancy when in his final words Brutus says “Caesar, now be still.”