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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Julius Caesar
Barbican Theatre   Winter 2017-2018

The Royal Shakespeare Company brings to London a season of Shakespeare's four Roman plays – Coriolanus last month and now Julius Caesar, Antony And Cleopatra and Titus Andronicus in repertory through January. 

For this Julius Caesar director Angus Jackson has chosen a conversational rather than oratorical mode.

It isn't until after the interval, when Brutus and Marc Antony address the Roman crowd, that anyone speechifies, and things return to a more natural style immediately afterwards.

(And even in that scene there are surprises. Brutus's oration, usually spoken prosaically to be easily topped by Antony's eloquence, is here delivered by Alex Waldmann as Brutus's one attempt at rabble-rousing demagoguery, so that James Corrigan as Antony has to underplay, manipulating the crowd by taking them into his confidence through feigned intimacy.) 

Playing every other interchange more naturally than oratorically allows us glimpses into the characters we might otherwise miss. 

Because Cassius draws Brutus into the conspiracy we might see him as the stronger, but Martin Hutson plays him as younger, more hesitant and more emotionally needy, eager to please Brutus and win his approval. 

Meanwhile Waldmann finds Brutus so self-sufficient and inward-looking throughout the play that his most intimate relationship is with his own thoughts. Even his unquestionably sincere love for his wife comes second. 

Neither man is idealised or simplified. When Brutus calls for the assassins to cover themselves in Caesar's blood to win the crowd's sympathy, we sense a man deluded by his own conviction he's right, just as we later spot him clumsily trying to control his own myth when he pretends to take Portia's death stoically. 

Meanwhile this Cassius is aware enough of his own image of immaturity to make a passive-aggressive tool out of it, invoking it as an excuse for his misbehaviour on the eve of battle. 

All this makes for a thoroughly clear and accessible drama, and I noticed nary a fidget among the teenage school groups in the audience. It also makes for a somewhat less grand drama, and those more familiar with the play will miss any real sense of stature or tragedy.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Julius Caesar - RSC at Barbican Theatre 2017  
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