Theatre review: Julius Caesar

“Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare

  • Producer: Royal Shakespeare Company for its London season
  • Director: Gregory Doran
  • Theatre: Nöel Coward Theatre

This modern-day production of Shakespeare’s play takes place in Africa and features an all-black cast. Many familiar faces from TV and stage feature here, most notably Paterson Joseph as Brutus. It’s not specified where in Africa we are supposed to be, but the actors, some of whom were born and grew up in the UK, affect an east African accent according to director Gregory Doran. It’s the sort of accent you might hear in programmes that stereotype the continent. This in itself is not a problem, but combined with the acoustics in live theatre and the highly-charged emotion of several scenes, it sometimes made it difficult to make out words and even whole sentences.

I wasn’t familiar with the plot of Julius Caesar before the performance, but found myself picking up the odd phrase here and there that has entered popular culture over the years, the most famous of which is Shakespeare’s interpretation of the historic Caesar’s reaction to his friend’s betrayal: “Et tu, Brute?”. Each one of these was like a little tap on the shoulder taking me out of the play, but this is hardly this production’s fault; merely an observation on my journey to seeing all I can of the Bard performed live.

I left the theatre pleased that I was now closer to that goal. I had lots of questions about how the story documented by the play compared to what historians know about the real Caesar, so I did some research over the next few days. I discovered that Caesar was assassinated on the steps of a theatre, the ruins of which I soon realised I had visited, lying innocuously in one of Rome’s many cat-filled squares. This one features a sanctuary whose aim is to help the city’s strays. I sat on a wall surrounding the ruins – not open to the public, and a haven for the cats – for about fifteen minutes, trying to attract some of them to play, not realising the significance of what I had barely noticed behind me.

The last Shakespeare I’d seen was Richard III (Old Vic, directed by Sam Mendes, 2011) and the previous RSC production I’d seen was Hamlet (Novello, directed by Gregory Doran, 2008). I was excited to see the two brought together again.

Together with BBC Two, the RSC produced a film version, shot on location, of Doran’s Hamlet which was broadcast on Boxing Day 2009. Partnering with the BBC again in 2012, a TV version of Julius Caesar was broadcast on BBC Four, again with the same cast as the stage production but shot on location.; the joint trailer for both this and the stage production is below. This idea of creating a show for two different mediums is something I know the RSC wants to do more of, and Doran particularly seems adept at. Allowing the widest possible audience access to the work is very important, and these efforts, this time as part of the World Shakespeare Festival, are to be applauded.

Trailer for the production

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