Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Julius Caesar (RSC) ***

Julius Caesar is a play filled with confrontation and ambition as powerful forces rise up against each other and fight for the control of arguably the most powerful empire in history. The play hinges on the assassination of Julius Caesar by Brutus and his accomplices.
Greg Hicks was a strong Caesar; his refined and considered performance giving us something to relate to in Caesar. He is a powerful man who is trapped but cannot admit to it. This is something that Hicks captures very well with what is the most developed character in the cast despite the remarkably short time he was on the stage. His scene with his wife (played well by Noma Dumezweni) is very well done and is one of the few moments of comedy in the show, which would turn out to be a welcome break. His return as the ghost in the second half is carried off well, the power in his voice being played to the full as he glides on and off.
Darrell D’Silva works well as Hicks’ old friend and more robust and passionate counterpart. Playing the same role as he did in Anthony and Cleopatra gave him the chance to really work on the character and having seen the latter it was enlightening to see how he was as a younger man. At one point he storms on and rushes to the back of the stage to throw up, an indication of his less strict lifestyle. His speech over Caesar’s corpse was moving and well done.
John Mackay suffered in a similar way to his Anthony and Cleopatra of feeling very wooden and as if he put his gestures and the like before his actual character, which was disappointing. Sam Troughton as Brutus played a tormented simple-minded man and is not the kind of person I would have expected to have been cast as Brutus. He didn’t come across as a master of battle but what he lacked in physical power he did something to make up for in emotional struggle, his argument with Portia being the standout moment (interestingly mirrored later in a similar argument with Cassius). He played a good part in the group who assassinated Caesar, being a strong if na├»ve leader of men but at no point did he feel powerful enough to provide Anthony with opposition of the same class. The relationship between him and Mackay’s Cassius is very well played, though their confrontation appears to lack motivation and comes from nowhere, much like the news of Portia’s death.
Those mentioned above and, indeed, most of the cast were capable but not much more. Nobody really made the leap from capable to memorable, the whole show being somewhat one-dimensional in character.
Unfortunately, the thing that I will remember most about the show will be the screen and video system that they employed to no great effect at all. Although the partitions at the back of the stage gave a good separation and the appearance of levels there was little else of any benefit. Instead of adding to the show as a whole it worked actively to the detriment of it. There’s no sense in beating around the bush here. The decidedly average videos drew attention away from the action on the stage as we tried to work out the relevance and it continued throughout until midway through the second half where they thankfully ran out of things to do and left it on generic smoke. It was a perfect example of trying to do something that was unjustified by the rest of the production and as such stood out like a sore thumb.
The whole production seems somewhat lackluster. What is a brutal play turned out rather one-dimensional and similar all the way through. The battles failed to excite and the rousing speeches were largely dull. The standout exception to this was the actual assassination of Caesar, which was brutal and very well done, the group diving at and around him like a pack devouring its helpless prey. The spray of blood every time the knife hit him was the most dramatic and exciting part of the play. Everything else seemed rushed and skipped and the things that were chosen to focus on appeared to have very little basis in the rest of the show, namely the opening Romulus and Remus conflict.
The set barely existed as they kept it bare and it was almost as bland as the costumes in the first half, the second half efforts being only marginally better.
So, in summation of all of these positive and negative points what do I have to say about the show? Avocadoes. That is what I have to say about it. You may at this point be forgiven for not knowing what I mean so I shall explain. Avocadoes are a food that I cannot work out whether or not I like. When presented with one I will have more and more and yet still remain undecided at the end as to whether or not I liked it. Many times I have had avocadoes and I still cannot decided whether or not I like them. It puzzles me greatly. This is an avocado play. I just can’t decide whether I liked it or not.  It left me unsatisfied and puzzling over what was going on.
On balance, the show was decidedly average. It’s not likely to stimulate much excitement or intellectual development but there are a few moments that make it worth seeing. Greg Hicks and Darrell D’Silva are the stars of the show, even if the firmament is dim at best and their efforts are worth seeing.

Written by William Shakespeare; Directed by Lucy Bailey; at the Roundhouse Theatre; Starring Darrell D'Silva, Greg Hicks, John Mackay, Sam Troughton, Brian Doherty, Hannah Young, Noma Dumezweni; Runs from 06 January 2011 - 05 March 2011 as part of the RSC London Season.

John Ord (10/01/11)

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