Saturday, July 07, 2012

Caesar in Africa - Julius Caesar @ Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, Friday 6 July 2012

I'm meant to be writing book reviews (and I am, honest: I just got distracted - I'm at least a quarter-way through doing each of them...). We booked to see this new production of Julius Caesar a while ago, and we were not sure at the time when this may be shown on TV (as we knew a TV version would be produced). We ended up missing the TV version, but as it came just a couple of weeks before we were due to see it on stage, we felt it was a screening we would not miss as much as some others (I've set to record the Hollow Crown series).

Well, we saw this African-set Julius Caesar last night and it was a joy. I mean we enjoyed the version we saw at the RSC (at the Courtyard) a few years ago, but this was in another league entirely.*

Paterson Joseph as Brutus was especially amazing to watch, especially when paired with Ray Fearon as Mark Anthony (there's a lovely mini-documentary on their roles at the RSC site).  But it does seem harsh to pick out individuals as this was such a great piece of collective performance.  The 'community chorus' that has been recruited to perform are fantastic, and wonderfully supplement the official speaking parts.  The music is fantastic, not least in the opening pre-play sequence, something of a growing tradition at the RSC and one I really enjoy as the stage fills with action.

And can I just say that Adjoa Andoh as Portia** more than matches Paterson Joseph's excellence in one of the play's rare female roles (this is a VERY male play on many levels).  What the women lack in lines, they make up for in compelling commitment to speaking truth, even though both she and Calpurnia (Caesar's wife) are ultimately unsuccessful at maintaining their husbands' grip on power or wisdom.

The African setting is exceptionally potent, and the linguistic rhythms of Shakespeare lend themselves well to these accents delivering the dialogue: there's plenty of guns and gunfire, but blades remain to the fore and there is a particularly disconcerting scene where Cinna the poet is mistook for Cinna the conspirator with deadly consequences echoing the internecine violence of arpartheid South Africa.

If you get chance to see this on tour, in London or elsewhere, then take the chance.  It's a stunning production and worth seeing on stage and not just on screen,

* I'd like to note that final line in my previous review about the monsoon we drove through to get to Stratford. What is it about Stratfordian monsoon rainfall and Julius Caesar?! It was pretty biblical driving from Nottingham to Stratford yesterday!

** Andoh is also stunningly beautiful, but Ann Ogbomo just shades it in terms of how she is costumed

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