RSC at the Barbican
PEACE FREEDOM LIBERTY proclaim neon signs as the curtain rises on Edward Hall's Julius Caesar. While every faction seems to promote these ideals, in reality they are elusive although there is hope at the end of the play that if nothing else the people will be tired of violence and peace may be possible.
Ian Hogg's Caesar is a man who is afflicted by illness and prone to collapse. He is an interesting mixture of excessive pomp and pride on one hand and superstitious uncertainty, possibly linked to his illness on the other. This means that when a slightly mad looking soothsayer warns him to beware the Ides of March, he is uncertain how to react. Is see above all this or in mortal danger?
He is contrasted with Brutus, played by Greg Hicks, and Cassius (by Tim Pigott-Smith). While Cassius is hot headed and vehement in his hatred of the Emperor, Brutus is more rational and thus possibly more dangerous. It is easy to see why this combination is able to put together a group of plotters who wish to overthrow Caesar. Cassius' passion and Brutus' way with words are compelling. Greg Hicks provides something of a copy of the parts that he played for Edward Hall in Tantalus last year but he seems well cast as Brutus.
Even though the set and lighting are those used to sensational effect in the RSC's Hamlet, the effects, while spectacular, seem a little artificial on occasion, although Hall's use of pathetic fallacy on a particularly stormy night is impressive. These special effects don't assist the production which in many ways does not fully hang together. Shakespeare is a great craftsman and it is often very obvious in this play that he is manipulating his audience, particularly when we see scenes involving the wives of Caesar and Brutus. Each of them nags her husband in a different way but they are really ciphers rather than fully developed characters.
Tom Mannion as Mark Antony tends to get all of the best lines and delivers them almost perfectly. There may well be a case for awarding him a supporting actor's prize at the end of the year. His two encomiums over Caesar's body are moving and powerful although ultimately, it is hard to believe that that a mob could be swayed after years of tyranny by a few minutes speech however well delivered. His style also complements that of Greg Hicks, since the latter, with his very quick delivery and nasal clipped voice sounds somewhat sinister while Mannion is all compassionate honesty.
Finally, after all the blood has been shed, this is an enjoyable production. It is particularly enhanced by the performances of Mannion, Pigott-Smith and Hicks. However, it is still a little hard to believe that the people could have loved and hated Caesar in quite the way that they did or that Mark Antony could really have believed that Brutus was "the noblest Roman of them all".
Julius Caesar is in rep at the Barbican until 6th April.
This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher