Julius Caesar (The Courtyard Theatre, 11th August 2009)

Courtyard Theatre

When the audience enters the auditorium at the Courtyard Theatre,  they are faced with Romulus and Remus savagely attacking  and fighting with each other.   The young men, who were brought up by wolves, are wearing loin clothes covered in mud and blood, snarl, hiss and growl at each other clamouring across the whole of the trust stage space.   There is a statue of Romulus and Remus projected onto the back of the stage, so we are clear who they are.   This is also the programme image.  It’s a very animal scene and a brutal way to welcome the audience into the theatre, but it is a dramatic way of introducing them to the whole tone of the production.  Rome in this production is a viciousness visceral world that is founded on blood and conflict.   Drops of blood are represented by the red paper petals that flutter from above to the stage.  This is a city built on death and blood, and it  is masculine and brutal.  I think the production was trying to convey an alternative to the more cerebral version of Rome that we sometimes see.  This aspect is discussed in more detail in the programme notes.

Greg Hicks is a stunning Caesar and has a real command of the stage.   He’s not meant to be, but he ends up being a star actor.  Even though other actors around him are good, it felt watching the production that he outshines the rest of the ensemble.  However, in some ways this does bring an interesting dimension to the play, because Greg Hicks is often monopolising the stage when he is on it, it makes his death a spectacular affair.  It’s Hicks’ physicality, and his presence on the stage, as well as his command of language which makes the murder of Caesar so shocking.  It is a harsh reminder that to murder is not an easy act.  In this production, the murder is bodged, and Caesar fights back.   He doesn’t just fall to the ground but tumbles down marble steps and he does not die easily.  Before the audience his  twitches and shudders  in the last throws of life.  He is covered in gashes and blood and as his body is brought back on stage and laid before the audience, I felt that the audience is made to feel that the death cannot be justified on any grounds.  It’s murder, whatever the reasons and justification presented, particularly by Brutus (Sam Troughton).  I think Caesar is not an easy part for an actor to play, particularly in that you’re dead for most of the play and you have to play a corpse and a ghost after you’ve died.  I think Hicks playing both the living and dead Caesar was stunning.

The night before Caesar dies the natural order is in turmoil.  The conspirators plot and the graveyards are giving up their dead. This turmoil does not end with the death of Caesar.  Mark Antony (Darell D’Silva) gives his amazing funeral speech, starting to speak hestently he starts to move the crowd and bring them to his side, and becomes more impassioned as he emphasises and repeats ‘Brutus was an honourable man’.  Some people around me felt that Antony was the wrong age and build, but I actually though this worked.  For me, he was clearly one of the lads that liked a good night out, a good scrap and hadn’t actually taken on much responsibiolity even at his age.   All of a sudden he was confronted with leadership and we see the consequences in Antony and Cleopatra.

Portia (Hannah Young) and Calphurnia (Noma Dumezweni) are the lone female voices in the play.  Calphurnia manages to persuade Caesar that it isn’t a good idea to go to the senate, but the conversation with Decius (Brian Doherty) turns when   arrives and she is mocked.  For Portia to have a voice she also turns to blood cutting her thigh to demonstrate  stoicism, which could be seen as a masculine act and that she has to communicate in the way men do to be heard.

The second half is shocking with blood curdling screams as the conspirators are tortured and put to death and the most horrific act of them all is when the mob tear the poet apart on stage.

I know that it is useful to experiment with multi media and in theatre and to explore new ideas.  In this production there was a crowd scene projected onto the back of the stage.  For me this just didn’t work.  It found it enormously distracting and a bit like watching Sky Sports News with so many things flashing across the screen.  The production is so physical, to have the reflected image was too far away from what I saw the production trying to do.  I know that it was meant to give the sense of a crowd, but all I saw was the same people being projected over and over again, like a bad cartoon.  Nevertheless, despite my own personal problem with the multi media background I felt that the Lucy Bailey and Bill Dudley partnership delivered a very good production, that made us think and consider a particular view of the play.  I am looking forward to seeing this production in Newcastle, maybe without the multimedia.


Reviews and Previews

Julius Caesar: Lend me your ears – or speak lou…
Birmingham Post – Life & Leisure – Birmingham C…
Independent Review of Julius Caesar
Theatre preview: Julius Caesar, Stratford-upon-…
Julius Caesar: RSC at the Courtyard Theatre, St…
Theatre review: Julius Caesar / Courtyard, Stra…
Julius Caesar has blood but no guts| Theatre | …
FT.com / UK – Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar: The Courtyard Theatre, Stratford…
The Stage / Reviews / Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar (RSC) – Julius Caesar – Review – …
Julius Caesar at Courtyard, Stratford-upon-Avon…

Further Information

Production Photographs (on RSC Facebook web site)
Details of the production on the Royal Shkespeare Company web site

Greg Hicks Julius Caesar Lucy Bailey RSC

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