Pictures: Helen Maynbanks
The Royal Shakespeare Company
Director Angus Jackson has provided a fantastic addition to the Roman season at the RSC with Julius Ceasar.
The play falls into Shakespeare’s history category, but it is also a dramatic tragedy. With Shakespeare’s interpretation of the great Roman general a portrayal of politics, ambition and revenge.
The people of Rome love Caesar, who had returned victorious from battle but when Caesar appoints himself as ‘dictator for life’, senators Cassius and Brutus, who remain loyal to a republican idea of Rome, find that Caesar’s ambitions do not fit well with their view of Roman democracy and plot his death.
Interestingly, the assassination of Caesar is not the climax of the play, instead, Shakespeare seeks to show the aftermath of public manipulation and the difference between what those in power think is right and wrong.
The set, designed by Robert Innes Hopkins remains true to a classical Roman style. In the first act, we see a huge marble temple up stage, which is the setting for the officials of the Roman council and of course, for Cassius and Brutus to conspire against Caesar.
The set is crisp and white, alluding to the majesty of the Rome and the contribution they made to the rest of the world. With Innes Hopkins’ creative eye and awesome attention to detail, it is easy to vividly imagine a likeness of the true event.
The costumes of Roman togas are regal and fascinating. Consuls wear a uniform of crisp white, and when Caesar’s brutal death occurs, the red of the blood flashes like a beacon upon the lavish material.
The cast are phenomenal and they are the force that gives an incredibly vivid account of the gory history. Andrew Woodall takes the title role as the strong leader, loved by the public, yet unpopular with his council.
Alex Waldmann as Brutus and Hannah Morrish as Portia
Woodall’s voice is the instrument that carries his performance. His very presence as the leader commands every drop of attention from the audience and his people and the responsibility is carried effortlessly by him. Caesar’s demise happens early within the play and it is a shame that we cannot have more of Woodall’s fantastic action.
In a play rife with politics and battle, the story is male dominated. Within the world of angry and bloodthirsty men, it is refreshing to have the roles of women highlighted as wonderfully as they are in Jackson’s production.
The role of Brutus’ wife, Portia is played by Hannah Morrish, who within her performance adds an air of gracefulness. In a scene pleading for Brutus to tell her his griefs, we see Brutus’ deep heart and emotion shine through at her presence. Equally, Kristin Atherton’s interpretation of Calphurnia is strong and sophisticated, matching Woodall’s booming Caesar. Atherton has a wonderful voice that is as crisp as air, which gives an authority to the powerhouse couple.
The entire cast should be praised and individually acclaimed for epic performances. Each and every actor adds their own style to the people of Caesar’s world and Jackson celebrates the diversity that comes with each performance.
There is one particular performance that encapsulates Jackson’s production beautifully - Martin Hutson’s portrayal of Cassius. From the first scene with Brutus to his last lament, every moment is breath-taking. Hutson is a master of emotion and gives us a wonderful Cassius. He is unafraid of showing what it means to be a daring Roman fighter, and we still see the raw emotion of his personal conflict that comes with making the right decision. Hutson’s relationship with Alex Waldmann, who plays Brutus, is remarkable with Waldmann’s performance sublime as the two work perfectly together matched by James Corrigan as Mark Anthony.
Watching the production, in its Roman style, it opens a strikingly current way of looking at modern politics and democracy. Jackson’s Caesar is traditional at the heart, but it speaks volumes about the way in which modern politics play out. To 09-09-17 at Stratford then 24-11-17 to 20-01-18 at The Barbican, London.