Writer: William Shakespeare
Music: Akintayo Akinbode
Director: Gregory Doran
Reviewer: Laura Maley
The Public Reviews Rating:
Following appearances in Stratford-upon-Avon and London, Gregory Doran’s Africa-based ‘revival’ of Julius Caesar for the Royal Shakespeare Company arrives at The Lowry this week. This marks the opportunity for North West audiences to enjoy classical performances from an outstanding ensemble cast in this gripping political thriller.
Julius Caesar triumphs in war and becomes drunk with power. Cassius plots with Brutus to murder Caesar – for the good of the republic. Following the murder, Brutus wins the people round but Caesar’s close friend Mark Anthony turns the tables on them, forcing them to flee. Mark Anthony forms an army against Cassius and Brutus, forcing them to face suicide or capture.
Moving the play’s setting to Africa draws parallels between the political machinations of ancient Rome and the instability of a number of modern African nations. The audience arrives in the theatre accompanied by celebratory dancing and insistent African drumming. The large ensemble enhances a strong feeling of community, which is important for the audience to be aware of during the action ahead. The cast perform with African accents, occasionally they waiver but often the African lilt enhances the lyrical quality of Shakespeare’s text. Jeffrey Kissoon’s (Caesar) voice in particular has a great musicality to it.
Michael Vale’s strong design is based on a fairly simple idea of a wall/rocky formation with an opening at ground level which allows Doran to introduce lots of movement and levels. It also doubles as house, football stadium, and tent seamlessly. At the back of the stage is a tall figure saluting – a clear substitute for dictators like Lenin or Saddam Hussein (the statue is even toppled late in the play, which is less clichéd than it may sound).
One problem with this production is that although Caesar (Jeffrey Kissoon) is undoubtedly vain and self-absorbed, he seems almost benign; his political ambition does not translate as well as his pride which means that the behaviour of Brutus and Cassius is confusing: there seems little for them to fight against.
Paterson Joseph gives a powerful performance throughout as Brutus, showing so many aspects of the character: confidence, bravura, manipulation, but also a flawed man, as vain as Caesar at times and then full of paranoia and guilt after Caesar’s murder. The audience can almost see his brain working at times as he plots with Cassius (Cyril Nri), to act for the good of their fellow countrymen to remove the perceived tyrant.
Mark Anthony’s famous ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen…’ speech is delivered ferociously by Ray Fearon in a second half performance which is fearless and brilliant. The dogged irony of Brutus being “an honourable man” takes on more potency with every relished repetition from Fearon.
Julius Caesar feels a very ‘macho’ play, both in the make-up of the character list and with the themes which might typically be apportioned as masculine. In spite of this, Adjoa Andoh’s performance as Brutus’s wife Portia deserves praise; her stage presence is memorable for what is a bit of a cameo role.
The clear successes of this RSC production are the assembly of a terrific cast and the demonstration that Shakespeare’s skill at capturing humanity, in all its forms, can be powerfully and passionately portrayed for new audiences.
Photo by Kwame Lestrade
Runs until 6 OctoberJulius Caesar - The Lowry, Salford,
Tags: Adjoa Andoh, Akintayo Akinbode, Cyril Nri, Drama, Gregory Doran, Jeffrey Kissoon, Julius Caesar, Paterson Joseph, Ray Fearon, Royal Shakespeare Company, RSC, Salford, The Lowry, Theatre, William Shakespeare