'Julius Caesar' review or 'New rhythms and reason'

'Julius Caesar', William Shakespeare
Noel Coward Theatre, Wednesday 15th August 2012
Written for The Ham & High 

Brutus (Paterson Joseph) and Caesar (Jeffery Kissoon) locked in ugly embrace
A giant golden statue of Caesar, his back turned to his people, sits atop an amphitheatre. Later, following Caesar's murder and Brutus' usurpation, this statue will come tumbling to the ground. This Caesar could be Saddam – but he could also be Gaddafi or indeed any of the other dictators, swept away by the Arab Spring. Greg Doran's RSC production might be set in Africa but it manages to reference almost every modern-day dictator and pulses with contemporary purpose.

This Roman play can often seem so stuffy; populated with men in tunics, carefully declaiming Shakespeare's elegant rhetoric. But this fierce production, performed by an all black cast, laughs in the face of such formality. The actors deliver their lines with a rare sense of freedom, creating new rhythms and accents. There might be a few swallowed lines but one cannot miss the urgent emotions behind these uniformly fine performances.

Jeffery Kissoon's Caesar might have shades of Saddam, Mugabe and Gaddafi but Kissoon is never restrained by these references. Dressed in white robes, Kissoon looks like a stroppy kid sent to bed too early. When he is summoned to the Senate, he throws an almighty strop, 'I will not go!' The fact we can laugh at these characters, only makes them more powerful.

The actresses are particularly spirited and make sense of moments that, in lesser productions, feel mechanical. Adjoa Andoh's, as Brutus' wife Portia, is an exceptionally stubborn soul. When she reveals a wound on her leg – a sign of her devotion to Brutus – the only surprise is that her whole body hasn't be slashed to pieces.

But it is Paterson Joseph, as Brutus, who really encapsulates this production's raw power and spontaneity. After he kills Caesar, Brutus seems like a kid high on sugar, buzzing and slightly out of control. His eyes are stretched wide open, as if he can't take in this new and startling view from the top. It is a constantly shifting and compelling interpretation. A performance so sophisticated that, despite having seen Brutus stab Caesar with such relish, we cannot help but weep over his lonely corpse.


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