Julius Caesar, RSC Stratford
THE PERENNIAL accusations of style over content and appearance over policy are an ever-present in our cut-throat, self-promoting political world and it seems we can learn much from the lessons of ancient Rome.
What those lessons are though remain a little lost in Atri Banerjee’s often brave but ultimately quite bewildering vision of political intrigue.
Lengthy dance sections, animal howling, flatulent trombones and operatic high notes against a background of a drab sky and massive digital countdowns all vie for attention without really adding anything that could be meaningfully grasped.
Perhaps as a result of the nationwide tour this production will take following its Stratford dates, there’s a distinctly pared-down nature on show. Rosanna Vize’s design is grey and rather utilitarian, with a revolving cube offering little in the way of spectacle and only the company’s current obsession with live-feed style projection to enliven the walls. The costumes are equally unspectacular with the ‘anything off the rails’ look giving the appearance of a rehearsal rather than a planned setting.
With such an uncharacteristic paucity of things to look at, the focus falls inevitably on the acting and here the production finds its principal strengths. There are some truly bizarre moves for the cast to negotiate – every entrance is taken at a sprint as ever – but most performances rise above those challenges. Among the conspirators Matthew Bulgo as Casca catches the eye with a splendidly balanced performance and there is fine support from Kelly Gough (Cassius) and Thalissa Teixeira (Brutus).
Nigel Barrett’s Caesar is restrained and William Robinson’s Mark Antony ends the first half on a high.
The RSC continues to lead the way in changing character genders and, while this works in the physical sense, it leads in this production to some of the clumsiest and most downright daft rewriting of famous and familiar lines.
Change should always be welcomed and embraced of course, but perhaps only when it isn’t at the expense of sense.