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Julius Caesar

William Shakespeare
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
(2003)

The current production of Julius Caesar by the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company lacks the spark that can make a remarkable production come alive. Although some members of the cast give impressive performances, others merely give their performances at impressive decibel levels, depriving their characters of both humanity and intelligibility.

The most natural performance of the evening is given by Gilly Gilchrist as Brutus. Gilchrist gives an adept display of Brutus' contemplative side, showing the struggle his character goes through in resolving to betray Caesar (Kern Falconer) and the progress made from Brutus' initial resistance to the murder urged by Senator Cassius (Kenneth Bryans) to accepting and even urging on his fellow senators to Caesar's murder. While it's difficult to catch the moment in the text where this change occurs, Gilchrist's quiet and concentrated performance demonstrates his emotive skills and communicative abilities.

This is especially notable in the scenes between Brutus and Cassius. While Brutus is thoughtful and calm, Bryans' approach to Cassius seems to feature raised voices and red-faced tirades over thoughtfulness. There is little seduction in Cassius' appeals to Brutus, with Bryans relying instead on brute volume to make his points. Along with Phil McKee as Mark Antony, Bryan leaves the audience wondering how he's managed to make it halfway through the play's run without losing his voice. One wishes that director Mark Thompson (for whom Caesar is the first production of a stint as Artistic Director) had directed his actors to restrain themselves from such blunt and forceful bludgeoning of the audience's eardrums; thanks to a combination of their volume and the Lyceum's acoustics, the actual words of Shakespeare's speeches are at times lost amid the bluster and volume of the actors' voices.

One of only two female characters, Meg Fraser gives a moving and believable performance as Portia. In particular, the scene she shares with Brutus (wherein she implores her husband to confide his plans to her) could easily become shrill and off-putting, but Fraser carries it with skill and convinces both Brutus and the audience of Portia's sincerity.

Production-wise, Caesar takes the approach of modernizing its costumes and sets while retaining Shakespeare's language. The set itself is, during the first half of the play, a large glass wall with doors, which is lit alternately from both up and downstage depending on whether the action is meant to take place in- or out-side. After Caesar's murder and the interval, it becomes a sheet of broken window panes set on an angle over the general's planning tables. Designer Robert Innes Hopkins has created a visually impressive and intriguing landscape upon which the action takes place, but it's difficult to see exactly how the sets and performances relate to one another.

The strength of Caesar in general (and this production in particular) is in how the play captures certain moments. Several times during the course of the show, the action on stage seems to pause suddenly as a perfect image is created; for example when Mark Antony rushes onto the scene of Caesar's murder and (before he begins to shout) clasps the body of his fallen friend to his chest, it creates one of the most poignant moments in the play. It's just a shame that more of these moments couldn't be created, which would have gone a long way toward making this a must-see production.

Julius Caesar will be playing at Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum Theatre until Saturday 18 October, 2003.

Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody