Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Gregory Doran
Reviewer: Leon Paul
The Public Reviews Rating:
Whilst having a nod to the situation with Nelson Mandela and South Africa, the production is not firmly based in one place in Africa. Instead it gives an aural sense of the continent as a whole, using music and accent. Doran uses the themes of sacrifice, conspiracy, political unrest and social justice to link the text to the production aesthetic.
The set design by Michael Vale is reminiscent of a decaying stadium, or amphitheatre whilst also having a nod towards the structure of the senate. This makes it a relatively versatile space, but it is only really transformed once in the latter part of the production when the central entrance is adapted to become a command tent in the field of battle. Behind this entrance & above the highest level of the occupied set, there is a huge statue of Caesar, reminiscent of that of Saddam Hussein that was toppled and beaten with shoes during his fall from power. Although there is no visible shoe-beating taking place, this upstage statue does fall and displaces the production from it’s African aesthetic to the more recent political occurrences in the middle-east.
Julius Caesar is said to be a tyrant throughout the text, a man who deserves to die at the hands of his colleagues in the senate, however there is very little evidence of this tyranny when surrounded by his entourage. There is the usual hierarchical deference, but one feels as though Brutus is the tyrant in this production & Caesar the innocent victim. We see no justification for the murder of Jeffery Kissoon’s Caesar, who is kindly & almost avuncular in his manner. Paterson Joseph’s Marcus Brutus has great energy and passion, striding about the stage in discussion with Caius Cassius (played by Cyril Nri), the archetype of a young leader.
Joseph Mydell’s Casca is the most Mandela-esqe of all. An incongruous choice, as Casca never ascends to the throne nor does he provide any more political disruption to Caesar than any of his co-conspirators. This again confuses the hierarchy and displaces us from a sense of real setting. However, with a beautiful lightness of touch Mydell uses the language to wittily swat at Cassius & Brutus and providing some of the only comedic relief.
Ray Fearon’s use of language is very good as Mark Anthony and his ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ speech is truly rousing. However, he spends quite a lot of time walking in slow-motion and crossing one leg in front of the other, which somewhat distracts from what he is saying.
The aesthetic of this production does not necessarily add anything to the story, but then it doesn’t necessarily take anything away either. There are times when the sense of the language is lost in the intonation or vocal character choices made by the actors, so it can be difficult to follow, especially if you are not used to listening to an African accent. I feel that special mention should be made of Ewart James Walters whose bass/baritone speaking voice was clear as a bell and a joy to listen to.