sun 14/07/2024

Julius Caesar, Shakespeare’s Globe | reviews, news & interviews

Julius Caesar, Shakespeare’s Globe

Julius Caesar, Shakespeare’s Globe

Dominic Dromgoole’s fluent production intelligently dissects tools of persuasion

Et tu, Brute? Tom McKay ponders his options in Julius Caesar

For those who believe spin is if not a modern invention, then at least a modern fascination, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar offers a sharp rejoinder. Interpretation, manipulation and persuasion pervade this incisive drama about the assassination of the Roman ruler, with the company donning layers of pretence as actors playing politicians whose lives unspool upon a stage; those who do not choose their lines with care are doomed to failure.

Dominic Dromgoole’s traditional production, with Elizabethan dress and straightforward staging, is a tad unadventurous, but by eschewing gimmicks, it places the spotlight upon the gripping war of words.

This Caesar is more overtly political than military, with the comparatively tedious second-half battles thankfully given short shrift. The earlier bursts of violence are stark and shocking, particularly the mob attack on Cinna, but Caesar’s murder is also a carefully arranged tableau, calculated to have a certain effect on the spectator: presentation is all. Similarly, Portia (feisty Catherine Bailey) understands the power she wields when she kneels before her husband to underline the urgency of her plea, and Cassius’s demand that Brutus slay him if he’s lost faith in him is a nicely played piece of theatre.

The most famous example of persuasive presentation has an excellent framework in the open-air Globe: as Brutus and Mark Anthony take to the forum pulpit and raise their voices to the restless crowd in, respectively, defence and condemnation of Caesar’s murder, so the actors address their oratory to the "mob" of groundlings – with heckling cast members scattered among them. Tom McKay’s sonorous voice rings out in Brutus’s rhetorical call and response, and Luke Thompson (pictured) offers a master class in feigned sincerity, finding the musical phrases in his speech and beautifully modulating each repeated ‘honourable’. His charade with Caesar’s will and knowing implication stops just short of "You might think that – I couldn’t possibly comment." Dromgoole lends the public’s fickleness a dark wit as they rush headlong from one extreme to the other.

The crafty double talk, well conveyed by a company with almost uniformly crisp delivery, has an urgent topicality, with the use of dangerous euphemisms and verbally dexterous rationalisation all too familiar. Tom McKay’s earnest Brutus is at pains to kill Caesar "boldly but not wrathfully", so that they can be called "purgers, not murderers", while the conspirators’ action is taken in the name of Rome and freedom, the end justifying the bloody means. The chaos that unfolds is a chilling illustration of the futility of employing violence in the name of peace.

McKay’s portrayal grows stronger in this bleak aftermath, naïve trust in "honour" as an incorruptible concept giving way to righteous anger and finally weary dignity. Anthony Howell embodies the "lean and hungry" Cassius, but plays him solely as a tightly coiled firebrand spitting out frustrations, which suits some moments better than others; his grief for Pindarus lacks emotional depth. Thompson, in contrast, switches effectively from Anthony’s seemingly innocent trickery to palpable anguish and grim fury.

Sam Cox is compelling as Ligarius, Dickon Tyrrell gives a sweet Lucius, haunting in his lullaby, Christopher Logan is a mannered but effective Casca, and Joe Jameson has fun with "peevish schoolboy" Octavius. George Irving’s avuncular Caesar is softly spoken and something of void, but that suits a production in which it is not the man that matters, but our shifting perception of him.

The crafty double talk, well conveyed by a company with almost uniformly crisp delivery, has an urgent topicality


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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