Julius Caesar

jc-progOur last visit to the RSC in Stratford was in 2007. We try to go for my birthday in August but last year left it too late to book tickets to see Hamlet; with David Tennant in the lead role tickets went very quickly!

This year we went to see Julius Caesar, at The Courtyard Theatre. (Work on the new auditorium is well underway but performances there still seem a long way off.) The RSC’s production emphasises how brutal, dangerous and violent the world of ancient Rome was.  As we entered the theatre and took our seats two scantily-clothed, dirt-streaked actors were fighting on stage like wild animals, portraying Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome – a dramatic addition to Shakespeare’s original text. This was followed by the Roman fertility festival of Lupercal – Lupercal is a cave on the Palatine Hill believed to be where a wolf suckled Romulus and Remus. I thought this was a most effective beginning, with the statue of the wolf suckling the twins projected on the backdrop, and showing a Rome full of violence, panic and hysteria. The cast was aided by video scenes of the crowd projected onto screens. It was actually very clever, if rather distracting but as we were sitting to one side of the stage I was able to ignore most of it.

The performance has stayed fresh in my mind. It was certainly a most entertaining production, and I enjoyed it even though it was slightly marred because I found most of Brutus’s dialogue inaudible. This may be because for his quieter speeches Sam Troughton had his back to our side of the stage, and yet I had no difficulty in hearing the other actors. His portrayal of Brutus emphasised the flaws in Brutus’s character – is Brutus really an “honourable man”? Clearly not, as Troughton’s “scared rabbit”, hesitant portrayal of Brutus came over as weak in complete contrast to Greg Hicks’s Caesar and particularly to Darrell D’Silva’s brutish and battle-scarred Mark Antony. As Cassius reveals, Brutus is easily persuaded over to the conspirators’ cause.

Julius Caesar is a play that has never convinced me that Caesar’s actions were so ambitious, nor of the justice or otherwise of the conspirators’ cause and this performance didn’t help. The conspirators came over as self-seeking and just as autocratic as Caesar, although strangely I found myself sympathising with Cassius, a character I didn’t take to when I read the play, with his “lean and hungry look”. Maybe this Cassius was just not that hungry, but nevertheless he was dangerous and Caesar would have done well to follow his own advice and avoid him.

The play draws attention to difference between the idealised image of Caesar and his infirmities – he is deaf in one ear, a weak swimmer and epileptic and Greg Hicks’s performance was powerful, if rather over-emphasised. However, Mark Antony’s vigorous and convincing devastation at Caesar’s death probably swung me over to his side. Darrell D’Silva’s performance was by far the best of the night.

6 thoughts on “Julius Caesar”

  1. What a terrific review! I love the idea of having a pre-play with Romulus and Remus and then the Lupercal fesitivities–it sounds like it added depth and enhanced understanding of their production of the play.
    >Julius Caesar is a play that has never convinced me that Caesar’s actions were so ambitious, nor of the justice or otherwise of the conspirators’ cause and this performance didn’t help.
    You’re not alone–Shakespeare deftly rode the fence on this, ably showing both sides of the argument.
    If you’re interested, I blogged about Caesar as part of my reading of 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, and found utterly fascinating the context in which JC was written and how Shakespeare navigated politically dangerous waters with that ambiguity with which he is known for. Here’s my posting on 1599 and Caesar: http://janegs.blogspot.com/2009/07/what-i-learned-about-shakespeares.html

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  2. Thank you Jane. I have 1599 on my desk right now – waiting to be read. The introduction to The Oxford Shakespeare edition of JC refers to the newly built Globe Theatre in 1599 and states that JC was perhaps composed for its opening.

    I think it’s remarkable that Shakespeare included these lines:

    “How many ages hence
    Shall this our lofty scene be acted over
    In states unborn and accents yet unknown!”

    How right he was.

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  3. ‘1599’ is definitely a must read. It’s that rare thing – an academic book that is both scholarly and readable. Although I know what you mean about the diction, I found Troughton refreshing as Brutus simply because he didn’t try and make him the perfect man. I’ve seen so many actors fail to make the last acts work when they’ve done that. I really agree about D’Silva, though. It’s unusual to get a Mark Antony who could just stroll over into ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ and fit the bill. I wonder if they’ll give him the opportunity. By the way, I gather from a bit of accidentally dropped gossip that it may be the beginning of 2011 rather than the end of 2010 before the new theatre opens.

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  4. My bookgroup was hoping to do a mid-week group visit to see this JC at the RSC, but we couldn’t decide on a date – and then all the good seats were gone. I’m glad you enjoyed it. It does sound a really good production. I quite like the scene-setting multi-media stuff that many productions use nowadays.

    Is Sam Troughton the son of David? (who is of course the son of the late Patrick – my childhood Dr Who). We’ve seen David Troughton in quite a few RSC productions and he was always brilliant. I remember him stealing the show as Bottom playing Pyramus in Dream – he just refused to die and had the audience in absolute fits.

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  5. Annabel, yes Sam is the son of David etc. What a pity you didn’t get tickets, it was a good performance. Sam was in Robin Hood – he was Much – if you saw that!

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