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Julius Caesar - Royal Shakespeare Company Review

With The Tempest firmly blown over the Royal Shakespeare Company next offer a striking new production of Julius Caesar continuing their 2023 theme of ‘power shifts’.

Director Arti Banerjee helms this new production which whilst being an enjoyable watch it is full of ideas that don’t fully formulate. 

Jimena Larraguivel (Calpurnia) and Nigel Barrett (Julius Caesar). Photo by Marc Brenner.

Out is any togas, weapons and even characters feel condensed here. As Caesar meets his inevitable end, it’s done more with slaps to his body covered in black oil rather than any daggers. It slightly weakens this brutal act by the conspirators.

The steering of the text feels weakened, and it feels at times that the actors are fighting a losing battle with their powerful performances against some of the choices they are given to play against or with. 

Rozanna Vize’s set consists of a huge cube which revolves to become a place where the ever increasing souls of the dead gather to loom over proceedings. A black side of the cube is used for Adam Sinclair’s animations to be projected on. Vize and Tomas Palmer costume design gives a modern but casual feel, but there’s no sense of those in power having better clothes or anything. Everyone feels on an even keel and that hinders a little.

Annabel Baldwin (Soothsayer) and Joshua Dunn (Cinna The Poet). Photo by Marc Brenner

In terms of the text there feels a lack of leadership, Caesar’s own power feels weak, that you feel he’s easy to overthrow and discard. There’s little time for the thoughts of the conspirators too and their internal feelings at their parts in doing the deed. 

There is also a lack of any real relationship development between the characters too which doesn’t allow you as an audience to feel so connected. The focus of the vision for this production feels less focused on the text than it could have done.

Although one of the cleverest decisions here is to putting the interval after Mark Antony (played well by William Robinson) has delivered the famous ‘Friends, Romans, Countryman’ speech at the funeral of Caesar. This allows for a different feel to both acts. The first act builds up to the power shift whilst the second is more the sedate reaction to the reactions of the brutality and the circumstances it leads to.

All said though there are some great performances. Thalissa Teixeira gives a well rounded Brutus. Particularly powerful is her interactions in the final acts as she turns herself on to her own sword. Kelly Gough impresses as a fiercely determined Cassius. 

Annabel Baldwins shows they are a skilled mover as The Soothsayer whilst conveying on the role mob. There’s an evocative feel when they are on the stage. Credit must also go to the community chorus who blend in seamlessly to the action. 

Ultimately it’s a hit and miss production. A Shakespeare purist may find it heavy going but it’s fast paced, highly engaging and enjoyable throughout. With a few less ideas and a tightening on the text it could have been a real hit but as it is it ends up a little middle of the road.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Julius Caesar continues at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon until Saturday 8th April. The production then heads out on tour visiting Canterbury, Truro, Bradford, Newcastle, Blackpool, Nottingham, Norwich, York and Salford. Visit to book tickets and for venue details.
Thalissa Teixeira (Brutus) and Nadi Kemp-Sayfi (Portia). Photo by Marc Brenner.

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