REVIEW | Royal Shakespeare Company (@TheRSC) ‘Julius Caesar’ @BarbicanCentre


Image Cred­it: Helen May­banks (RSC)

The demise of Juli­us Caesar is known through­out the realms of lit­er­at­ure, his­tory, theatre, polit­ics and myth­o­logy. The tragedy has been passed down from ancient toga wear­ing his­tor­i­ans all the way to the mod­ern, jean-wear­ing, era. His is the story of Rome’s prod­ig­al son, who went to war with his eld­ers; and won. Rather than be con­tent with his good for­tune, Caesar deman­ded the spoils to match his vic­tory. He wanted con­trol of Rome all to him­self.  Why not?  His divine pro­tec­tion, sup­posedly from the god­dess Venus, had helped him get this far. Why would she aban­don him when unri­valled power was with­in reach?  Well, accord­ing the his­tor­i­an Plut­arch; Caesar flew too close to the sun, and burnt his lucky wings off.

The irony is, that in death, Caesar finally became revered in the roy­al fash­ion he so badly craved in life. His name gave birth to the title of Caesar, also known as Kais­er or Tzar. It is a type of king who says he’s not a king, but still wears the crown.

In the 1600s WIl­li­am Shakespeare adap­ted Plut­arch’s account to his own play. Although it was very likely the death of Caesar had been redu­cing theatre audi­ence mem­bers to tears for cen­tur­ies, Shakespeare’s adapt­a­tion remains the most fam­ous (yes, I have heard the inter­net the­or­ies that he did­n’t write any of his shit). This is because Shakespeare writ­ing about the Roman Sen­at­ors is like the 1600s equi­val­ent of Mar­tin Scorsese telling us the story of an Amer­ic­an gang­ster today. No one else could have done it so well.

In early 2017 I had been read­ing a book on Repub­lic­an Rome (Rubicon by Tom Hol­land) and wanted to see Rome come alive on stage. I waited almost a year for the O.G Roy­al Shakespeare play to come to Lon­don. Whilst there are many oth­er film and stage adapt­a­tions of Juli­us Caesar, the Roy­al Shakespeare Com­pany carry the repu­ta­tion remain­ing faith­ful to their name­sake; no reboots. So I waited.

Even­tu­ally Rome had come to Lon­don. I atten­ded an even­ing show on a cold Decem­ber night at a packed Bar­bican Theatre. The crowd was mostly older, as to be expec­ted. Caesar is not as pop­u­lar as Darth Vader these days, but their resumes are com­par­able.

Andrew Woodall was for­mid­able in his lead role as Caesar. He chan­nelled a cha­risma syn­onym­ous with the Roman Sen­at­or, that kept all eyes on him whilst on stage. The sup­port­ing lead roles of Bru­tus and Cas­si­us had a charged stage chem­istry. You could believe the act­ors bold declar­a­tions of affec­tion for one anoth­er that drove the plot.  Alex Wald­mann (Bru­tus) was also subtly cold towards his wife in com­par­is­on, a nuance that shows the act­ors under­stand­ing of the char­ac­ter.

The set was rel­at­ively min­im­al but well used. The play put the char­ac­ters in humble set­tings, such as a camp tents. How­ever, I do wish they had done more to dis­tin­guish scenes in the Sen­ate. The Sen­ate House was like House a of Lords, where upper-class old men ran an empire span­ning France to Egypt from. It was sur­roun­ded by statues and grand temples; which they could have incor­por­ated on the set to give a sense of Roman gran­di­ose.

I highly recom­mend the play to people of all back­grounds and interests.  The tragedy of Juli­us Caesar has uni­ver­sal themes which are time­less. This adapt­a­tion is beau­ti­fully told and won­der­fully acted. You will leave hav­ing the prestige of the Roman empire rubbed off on you, and that is a cred­it to dir­ect­or Angus Jack­son and the RSC team.

Juli­us Caesar is show­ing at the Bar­bican until Janu­ary 20th 2018. For tick­ets click here. 

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Merz is No Bounds’ well-being lead. A long­time hip hop head with sev­er­al years exper­i­ence in men­tal health. He is also founder of a vegan Mac & Cheese food truck @lazyboykitchen .

About Merz

Merz is No Bounds' well-being lead. A longtime hip hop head with several years experience in mental health. He is also founder of a vegan Mac & Cheese food truck @lazyboykitchen .