|Design by Michael Vale. Photo (c) 2012 Kwame Lestrade.|
|Theo Ogundipe as the Soothsayer. Photo by Kwame Lestrade.|
|Ray Fearon as Mark Antony.|
Gregory Doran, the RSC’s Artistic Director, directs this play briskly, powerfully, building on relationships, looks, whispers. Although the play runs close to three hours, Mr. Doran doesn’t allow us to feel it for a moment. The acting was generally excellent (although some of the African accented English was difficult to understand, noticeably Mark Antony).
Despite this, our ears become accustomed to the speech, and physically Ray Fearon was a remarkable Antony, a canny alpha male who can cajole, calm, and incite his listeners. It is Antony that becomes the hero of the piece as Brutus and Cassius and their faction diminish. Paterson Joseph presented a strange interpretation of Brutus as a glad-hander instead of a stoic, as if he had found Brutus’ entire character in his admonition to the conspirators on that first night in his garden, when they came with faces hidden from the darkness. He urged them not to mask themselves but rather to hide the conspiracy “in smiles and affability!” This jovial Brutus is an unusual choice, but it worked toward a fine balance of the driven characters. Poor Cassius was totally screwed and we felt each slight by Caesar as Cyril Nri showed us the reality of a man who is no longer preferred, no longer a part of the in crowd. He is filled with fear, paranoia, and resentment. In this production it was always clear that everything Cassius said was smart, and each time Brutus denied him, Brutus’ ego diverted and weakened the plan and his co-conspirators.
|Brutus and Cassius over the body of Caesar.|
Joseph Mydell’s Casca was witty and malleable. Jeffery Kissoon’s Caesar was a jealous old man, a corporate kingpin with the power of life and death, chilling in his ordinariness. Several members of the company, like Ricky Fearon and Jude Owusu, had a fine time playing disparate roles. Simon Manyonda, as Brutus’ servant Lucius, was engaging in each scene, whether sleeping or waking. As for the women, Calpurnia seemed to barely exist in this production, although the image of Portia did linger, particularly in the reactions of Lucius, Cassius, and Messala (Chiké Okonkwo) to her death.
This is a forceful and vibrant production, a new interpretation of a story that still remains the same. If you’ve seen Julius Caesar, you haven’t seen one like this. If you haven’t, go learn a little history, listen to a little music, and love a lot of Shakespearean tragedy.
~ Molly Matera, signing off to re-read the play yet again.