REVIEW: Julius Caesar @ Theatre Royal, Newcastle
By Carla Washbourne on August 2, 2012 in Stage
Relocated from Rome to East Africa, with Shakespearean prose delivered in an African accent developed by the cast, this is Julius Caesar as you’ve never seen it before. Unless of course you watched the televised version of this performance on the BBC a few weeks back, in which case it will be precisely as you have seen it before but you’ll know how just awesomely effective it is.
This particular RSC rendition formed part of the ambitious World Shakespeare Festival, nestled comfortably for just over a week in the beautiful Theatre Royal before setting off on its UK tour. The play has been in development for just under a year, with tales of the influence the original text had on prisoners on South Africa’s Robben Island, including Nelson Mandela, heavily informing the setting and subtext.
Musicians are strewn across the stage as the audience enter, giving off an air of utter nonchalance: we have just walked straight in to the performance. From the playfulness of the stage setting, allowing cast to wander on an off as they please, to the unwavering passion of the entire cast, tonight’s show was dynamic, fresh and flawless.
Adaptability of setting and staging speak of the universality of the tale: Julius Caesar is as topical now, in a tumultuous world of power struggles, as it was in Elizabethan England. Drawn in by its stark tagline ‘the dictator must be assassinated’ we are invited to explore a recognisably contemporary face of dictatorship and democracy through visual trickery and expertly delivered, barbed dialogue full of sidesteps and subterfuge.
On a much lighter note, there is a certain part of me that delights in seeing actors behaving brilliantly, utterly out of the context I recognise them in. During tonight’s performance I had the slow realisation that Peep Show’s Alan Johnson was breaking out the flowery prose as conspirator Marcus Brutus. From main player to minor role, everyone onstage was so deeply involved in the drama that you couldn’t help but be entirely absorbed too. Utterly perfect from start to finish and definitely one to catch-if-you-can on its travels around the UK!
- PREVIEW: World Shakespeare Festival