Reviewed by James Karas
The Royal Shakespeare Company has brought last summer’s productions of Shakespeare’s Roman plays from Stratford-upon-Avon to London’s Barbican Theatre.
Angus Jackson’s production of Julius Caesar is inept and disappointing for a number of reasons and one wonders why none of them were avoided.
We first see the plebeians dressed in a grab bag of costumes playing and celebrating in the streets of Rome. The Tribunes Flavius (Marcellus Walton) and Murullus (David Burnett) admonish them. They speak slowly, deliberately and distinctly which is perhaps not the tone most appropriate for upbraiding someone. But so be it.
Andrew Woodall as Julius Caesar (centre)
Photo © Royal Shakespeare Company / Helen Maybanks
We soon meet Cassius (Martin Hutson) who wants to draw in Brutus (Alex Waldmann) into a murderous conspiracy. Cassius glances around furtively now and then but he does not sound conspiratorial at all. He and Brutus speak slowly and distinctly as do most of the actors. In fact they speak so slowly and distinctly with so little modulation, that they all sounded as if they are doing a read through of the script with little attention to much of anything except the words. Is this a high school production or young actors getting used to speaking Shakespearean English?
Most of the conspirators are very young. We expect Brutus to fit the description of a highly respected statesman. He is not. Waldmann walks like an awkward teenager with his body weaving from side to side. Where is his gravitas?
Cassius appears half-naked during the storm. Yes the text hints at it but surely it can be taken metaphorically instead of letting him appear like an idiot.
When all the conspirators except Brutus have stabbed Caesar, he turns towards his beloved Brutus and says one of the most famous line in Shakespeare: “Et tu, Brute.” These words are uttered, I suggest, after Brutus has stabbed Caesar. In this production, they are said before. Caesar may know that Brutus will stab him but how can he be sure that his friend will not do it?
We slog through the text as if walking through mud for about one hour and a half and get a break when Brutus is about to address the crowd following the assassination. It is a very long one and a half hours. By the way when Mark Antony asks to have a word with Brutus following the stabbing, the audience laughed.
When Cassius said that the “lofty scene” i.e. the assassination shall be acted over in many ages hence in states unborn, the audience laughed again.
The rate of speaking picks up some speed in the second half. James Corrigan does a good job as Mark Antony with “Friends, Romans, countrymen.” Kristin Atherton was an effective Calpurnia and Hannah Morrish was fine as Portia.
The set by Robert Innes Hopkins is of the monumental style with huge columns. There is nothing wrong with that type of image of imperial Rome and it may be okay for Republican Rome in its final days.
It did not hurt or help a production that was a bore.
Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare continues until January 20, 2018 at the Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London, England. www.rsc.org.uk