Julius Caesar

William Shakespeare
Shakespeare's Globe

George Irving Credit: Manuel Harlan
Tom Mackay and Anthony Howell Credit: Manuel Harlan

Dominic Dromgoole has set this summer's Julius Caesar in Renaissance costumes, which takes a little time to get used to. Somehow, while togas fit the bill perfectly and modern dress can add a fresh veneer, the clothing of Shakespeare's own time seems neither fish nor fowl.

Once one has acclimatised, there are several other elements of this production that stand out, often in a positive way.

As so often, this director asks his actors to commune with the groundlings in the pit, adding to the fun early on. Indeed, the Lupercalian revelries actually commence outside the wooden O around half an hour before the first speech is delivered, rowdy actors easily confusable with Italian football fans returning early from the World Cup and seeking alternative entertainment, shocking respectable spectators as they do so.

Things settle down as a sometimes barely audible, mild-mannered Caesar makes his attempts to appear tyrannical.

Whatever impression George Irving makes on viewers, his character certainly riles leading senators, who quickly decide that his imperial days are numbered.

Tom Mackay's Brutus is a noble, thoughtful man who seeks the best for the commonwealth of Rome but his hot-headed brother Cassius, played with real passion by Anthony Howell, seems bent only on revenge and possibly a glimpse of power.

The conspirators end the Emperor's life with an excess of stage blood. This might come as a surprise to those that have seen Titus Andronicus and might reasonably believe that Lucy Bailey's cast had used up the season's gory supply.

On the other side of the political divide, the director takes a gamble in casting Luke Thompson as Mark Antony. Rather than the usual statesmanlike diplomat, this version initially comes over as a well-to-do playboy dabbling in political matters due to his friendship with the state's former leader.

However, following Brutus's very serviceable eulogy to the man whom he has helped to murder, Thompson whips up the Roman citizenry (not to mention an enthusiastic pit) into a positive frenzy with his heartfelt appreciation of Caesar and deeply ironic homage to the "honourable" Brutus and his cohorts.

This leads the way to open warfare after the interval when Mark Antony and the Emperor's heir, Joe Jameson as Octavius Caesar, challenge the conspirators.

Death and its contemplation can often bring nobility even to those that so recently meted it out on their emperor. That is the case here as first Cassius and then Brutus fall on their swords, the latter in a novel turn carried by a spear carrier looking suspiciously like the reincarnation of the late, great Julius himself.

The evening ends after 2¾ hours with as active a final dance as even this venue has seen, all of the actors throwing themselves into the fun with aplomb.

This is a somewhat unorthodox but enjoyable rendition of Julius Caesar that is unlikely to set the world on fire but should please Globe audiences through the summer and into the autumn.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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