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A CurtainUp London Review
For the Royal Shakespeare Company at London's Roundhouse the immediate image of the opening scenes is one of the legendary feral twins, Romulus and Remus, brought up by the she wolf and fighting for supremacy over the other. The Lupercal Festival, as a reminder of the origins of what is now Roman civilisation, serves to tell us how close the new state is to chaos and of course, the theme of Julius Caesar is what happens to the state when strong leadership is overthrown. The first half of the play is about the abuse of political power with the planning and carrying out of the murder of Julius Caesar and the second half is about the war, the battles between those that conspired against Julius Caesar and Caesar's supporters. Julius Caesar (Greg Hicks) wears a wolf skin mantle to remind us that he is the heir of Romulus the founding father.
Lucy Bailey never shies away from the more bloodthirsty aspects of her dark and distinctive productions; they are thrill, spectacle and gore. This is a Rome of ugly crowds and the mob who are dangerously swayed by Mark Antony's (Darryl D'Silva) oratory in his famous funeral speech in defence of Caesar. Whilst the first half kept my attention I found myself in the second more diverted by the patterned net body stockings the soldiers were wearing over their torsos and arms but don't ask me why!
Sam Troughton does speak the verse well but as Brutus he didn't totally convince me of his nobility. However, his character destruction is well displayed as he gives way to anger and I did enjoy the debates between Brutus and Cassius (John Mackay).
Greg Hicks as Julius Caesar actually used a reverb as he rather heavy handedly appeared as the ghost during the battle of Philippi — usually Hicks' magnificent voice vibrates enough all on its own. As Caesar talks about the lean Cassius there is a certain irony as it is debatable who is the leaner Hicks or John Mackay.
John Mackay had a sincerity I might have cast as Brutus were it not that he is an obviously tall and thin actor. How about a Julius Caesar cast against body shape for a change?
I liked Noma Dumezweni's Calpurnia but this production with its gladiatorial combat inspired by the BBC/HBO's serial Rome necessarily concentrates less on augury and more on fighting. The theme is very much that we are departing from those clean images of white marble columns and pristine togas to a Rome which is more realistically dirty. In order to beef out the crowd and battle scenes, projections of the crowds or the seried ranks of soldiers are seen behind the actors to give an illusion of numbers in William Dudley's design.
If the main audience for these productions from the Royal Shakespeare Company is the school market, I expect they will find the play exciting as the children see Shakespeare's words come to life onstage. It is to be hoped too that the present resurgence of the RSC with an exciting array of Associate Directors will again attract the acting stars of the future as they did before the 1990s.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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