What: Julius Caesar
Where: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon
Who: Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC)
When: 4th May 2017.
This reviewer is confused
The RSC decided in their wisdom to have “press day” for both Antony & Cleopatra and Julius Caesar on the same day. Figuring that seeing two plays on one day would rather ruin the palate for the second, I decided to opt out of one. On the flip of a coin and because I prefer the “Cleopatra” play normally, I decided to come back and see Julius Caesar another day even though my review would appear later than everyone else’s and although it would mean seeing the plays out of sequence. Also, sequentially, it makes much more sense for Julius Caesar to be seen first.
Now I have to say that “Antony and Cleopatra” was horrible and the worst production i have seen from the RSC for a number of years.
Now since there is a director overseeing the four productions in the RSC’s Rome series, I estimated that this production would go in roughly the same direction as Iqbal Khan’s “Anthony and Cleopatra” and would need some fine performances to save it.
I needn’t have worried because Angus Jackson’s “Julius Caesar” is confusingly, truly excellent. Not flawless but truly, truly excellent and you would do well to see it.
All the more confusing because Angus Jackson is also the director overseeing the whole Rome series (Titus Andronicus and Coriolanus are still to come) and you really would have thought that he would have steered this in the same direction as “Antony and Cleopatra” or vice versa but truthfully, I see little common ground at all. Where “Antony and Cleopatra” is kitsch, “Julius Caesar” is commanding; where “Antony and Cleopatra” is a mess of assumed accents, “Caesar” is played straight; where few of the actors in “A&C” come out with much credit, virtually everyone here is strong and ideally suited to the role they have been selected for.
Best of all are Alex Waldmann as Brutus and Martin Hutson as Cassius. Now, I haven’t always been kind to Mr Waldmann. I really didn’t enjoy him as King John. I thought he was weak in “All’s Well That Ends Well”. Sandwiched between those, he did well, in my estimation as Catesby in “Richard III” in 2012. But here captures the role of Brutus perfectly. He is emotional when he needs to be, stoic at times, compassionate and convincingly so at other moments.
Martin Hutson? He impressed me from the moment he came on stage and his contribution to the production didn’t lessen as time went along. But I couldn’t place where I’d seen him before. Check the programme. “As You Like It”? Didn’t really recall him in that. “Titus Andronicus”? A very good production, last time around, but he didn’t stand out. Check the other credits. Ah, Midsomer Murders. Oddly, it was this I remembered him in. The son of a hidebound photographer who turned out to be the killer. He’d clearly made a mark on my memory and the stamp was only confirmed with his passionate portrayal of Cassius here.
Kristin Atherton, who was one of the few good things in “Anthony and Cleopatra”, was very good in an abbreviated role as Calphurnia here. James Corrigan made Mark Antony a master of spin in the speech at Caesar’s funeral. Patrick Drury was a solid Cinna the poet. Hannah Morris was an accomplished Portia beseeching her husband to open up his world of secrets to her.
Andrew Woodall was no more convincing here as Julius Caesar than he was as Enobarbus in “Antony and Cleopatra” but he was noticeably less annoying — and at least, the character dies at half-time.
Whereas, while most of the staging in “Antony and Cleopatra” was a mess of overdone idea with sections of the stage appearing and disappearing to no apparent benefit, here, the same designer, Robert Innes Hopkins opts for a much simpler approach – particularly before the interval. In this, he earns himself great credit. It is strong and adds the necessary element to the colour of the costumes which are at time a little bland. The war and fight scenes are good too – no tiny boats on sticks here.
I still have a few minor gripes – horn players warming their instruments in the theatre once the audience is ready for the play, for example, but in the face of such quality this is minutiae. It was not so when one was being irritated by the whole production at “Antony and Cleopatra”.
So I promise to stop complaining about “Antony and Cleopatra”. “Julius Caesar” is a major triumph for the RSC, for Angus Jackson, for Robert Innes Hopkins, and for the whole cast. Flock to see it while there is yet time!