Mini-review – Julius Caesar – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Noel Coward Theater

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It’s hard not to get a little more excited about shows when you can see them building up day by day. This is what led me to get tickets for the RSC’s Julius Caesar at the Noel Coward theater – something about watching the load in made me much more excited about this show than I might have been, given that I’m way past my standard annual Shakespeare limit (four so far and I doubled up on Henry V). But I’d never seen this play before, and they had some seats going for £12.50 (if you buy them at the box office; otherwise there’s an extortionate £2 charge per ticket), so I sweet talked my roommate and next thing you know there we are about the 2nd night of previews. Woo hoo! (Note: I couldn’t find any discounts for this show anywhere, but the highest tier of the gods was closed, so if I’d bought there I would have done better than for my irritatingly restricted side balcony seat – much leaning forward was necessary.) I didn’t really know anything about this show, other than having someone tell me it was an all-black cast.

The setting for this version of Julius Caesar is most decidedly Africa: to me, it felt a bit like what I might expect of South Africa (especially with the rubber tire “necklace”), but the shamanic figure and music didn’t give me a solid setting: it was more of a feeling of any place where dictators might rise and fall, where armies of men stood ready to fight at a moment, where the populace was ready to cheer or riot as necessary. It seemed very much to be Anycountry, but for the undercurrent of a total dedication to freedom and rejecting tyranny: that made it Rome, ancient Rome all the way, no matter what clothes anyone was wearing or what sort of guns they carried. Shakespeare’s words held true, and even in a world of cement blocks crumbled by war, to me we were a few blocks from the Forum, talking about a way of life and an ethos that had long since vanished.

The sad thing, really, is that the words of this production were frequently hard to enjoy. Without studying the work beforehand, it often happens that you just have to let things slip in Shakespeare and figure you’ll catch up with it later when you read the script; but I was really struggling to hear what people were saying on stage. I think the ambient noise and the frequent shouting were just turning things into a mush. Still, the emotional power shone through: of Marc Antony’s manipulation; of Brutus’ abuse of Cassius; of the murderous power of a mob. It all goes by in an incredibly rush, though oddly they’ve decided to put an interval in shortly after the assassination scene (this not present during the Stratford run). Still … a strong production and a good show, nicely framed to show the key elements of truth in the political world of the present.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, August 10th, 2012. It continues through September 15th.)

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