The Courtyard Theatre, Stratford
3rd September 2009
Tonight, I watched David Troughton in a repeat of the BBC light drama, New Tricks. Troughton is an actor with a distinguished Shakespearean pedigree and he carried off the TV role with aplomb and class.
Last week, I watched Sam Troughton, son of David, as Brutus in Julius Caesar for the Royal Shakespeare company. Now, the younger Troughton is best known for playing Much the Miller’s son in the disappointing BBC light drama of Robin Hood. Could he handle the transition to playing the rather more demanding role in the Shakespeare play and follow in his father’s footsteps?
Julius Caesar seems to be to be a difficult play to present well. Even moreso than most plays by the Bard of Avon, it is very wordy. The contemplative scenes with their rich dialogue are some distant apart from the scenes which are set in the heart of the battle as Rome is split asunder by those who assassinated Julius, who are opposed by those loyal to him and his memory led by Mark Anthony (played here by the excellent Darrell D’Silva)
Director Lucy Bailey rather accentuates the problem by making the thoughtful scenes rather colourless and making the action scenes as violent and bloody as I could imagine (although some who saw the preview performances said the amount of blood had been considerably toned down since those early days!). Sitting in the aisle seat of the second row I feared many times being clattered by one of a number of armour-clad Roman soldiers who seemed to be leaping from the stage in my general direction with alarming frequency in the later scenes.
The mention of the armour brings to mind a second problem created by the direction. The costumes worn by the actors were very much traditional Roman garb meant to reflect the era when the play is set (although the skirts worn by the men did look like they’d been bought as a cheap job lot from Primark). This attempt at traditional garb was in marked contrast to the ultra-modern use of video screens at the rear of the stage which were used to depict crowd scenes and battle scenes. Visually, the play tried to be everything and did most things well but perhaps there was too much to take in and too many contrasts. In addition, the crowd and fight scenes on the video necessitated the use of a number of real figures around the central characters to make us feel connected to the video action. This meant that some of the members of the ensemble were seen on stage 5, 6 or 7 times playing different roles. Everything was a little hard to follow. Was that really Caesar’s grieving widow at the front of the baying crowd at his funeral as Mark Anthony whipped up the populace?
The ensemble which was so promising in “The Winter’s Tale” provided a mixed bunch of performances here. Greg Hicks, a good solid Caesar but not outstanding. John Mackay stumbling over his lines as Cassius. Joseph Arkley, a forgettable Octavius Caesar. Hannah Young, a passionate and convincing Portia.
So a play that was in turns too loud and too quiet, ancient and modern, excellent and then dull.
And young Troughton? An aggressive and full-blooded Marcus Brutus to stand in a family tradition. And indeed likely to establish himself as a capable Shakespearean actor in his own right.
Sam Troughton as Brutus with John Mackay as Cassius
The Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon