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A CurtainUp London London Review
Julius Caesar

"Let me have men about me that are fat,?
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep a-nights.?
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look,?
He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.."
— Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Tom McKay as Brutus and Anthony Howell as Cassius (Photo: Manuel Harlan)
I hadn't realized until I read the theatre programme that Julius Caesar doesn't have any comic parts in it. I'm no expert on Shakespeare's Roman plays but I don't think they are overflowing with comedy. Here Dominic Dromgoole makes a difference with his pre-show celebration of the celebration of the Feast of Lupercal, the wolf who raised the city's founders Romulus and Remus.

Like a crowd of football supporters, the Lupercalians are loud and drunken and of course the nearest the crowd will get to comedy. The debate they open about politics sets the scene. They are in Tudor rather than Roman costume hence underlining another point that Caesar's Rome seems akin to Shakespeare's London with debates about monarchy and succession. It is a convincing show of the power of the mob who will change sides during the play and we get to feel the power of the Plebian Romans.

The crowd herald the arrival of Caesar (George Irving) fresh from the victory against Pompey, a general who was a staunch supporter of the Roman Republic. The offering of the crown to Caesar, although he refuses it, angers the supporters of the Roman Republic. Like situations today, a strong leader is needed to unite a disintegrating empire but with that strength often comes a dictatorship destroying democratic rule. The first half gives prominence to SPQR on the set, standing for Senatus Populusque Romanus, the Senate of the People and Rome.

Antony (Luke Thompson) is presented as a celebrity, one of Caesar's entourage, popular with the crowd but shallow and less serious that the good Senators, Cassius (Anthony Howell) and Brutus (Tom McKay). Even Antony's oratory doesn't have sincerity but feels manipulating, even histrionic. It is hard to believe that Shakespeare wrote, "This was the most unklndest cut of all." Our sympathies are definitely with the thoughtful characters, the honourable men.

It is a lively performance with most of the best action and speeches in the first half of the play. Act Two, which sees the battle of Phlippi, although the Testudo (or tortoise) formation is well enacted, is (almost always) less interesting. The Testudo represents the way the Roman soldiers grouped their shields to the sides and above to present an impenetrable unit in battle.

Many of the historical reports of self harm are religious, self flagellation and the like, but here strangely Brutus' wife Portia (Catherine Bailey) cuts her thigh to show her devotion to him. With the suicides of the opposition generals in the second half and of that of Portia, you could be forgiven for thinking that there is as much self harm in Julius Caesar as murder.

Katy Stephens is powerful as Calpurnia but of course Caesar is not the type to listen to his wife, or to soothsayers! George Irving's Caesar is originally camp and very self involved as is his associate Casca (Christopher Logan). Certainly they present a clique.

There is a parallel with Shakespeare's other plays, in the conflict between what is best for the state and the other evil, necessitating the murder of a ruler. This production is thought provoking and with some ideas fresh to me, but I think I prefer the beautiful oratory of Mark Antony to the celebrity sports star. Of course, out of doors in broad daylight, it is hard to reproduce the stormy omens of the night before the murder, but what is lost in that, is gained by the exhilarating outdoor atmosphere of the Globe.

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Julius Caesar
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Dominic Dromgoole

Starring: Anthony Howell, Tom McKay, George Irving, Katy Stephens, Luke Thompson
With: Sam Cox, Catherine Bailey, Patrick Driver, Joe Jameson, Tom Kanji, Christopher Logan, William Mannering, Keith Ramsay, Paul Rider, Dickon Tyrrell, Rupert Baldwin, Will Bridges, Matt Doherty, Roman Lagnado, Jessie Lilley, Claire Lowrie, Benjamin Jason Reeves
Designer: Jonathan Fensom
Movement: Glen MacDonald
Choreographer: Sian Williams
Composer: Claire van Kempen
Sound: Carolyn Downing
Fights: Kevin McCurdy
Running time: Two hours hour 50 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 020 7902 1400
Booking to 11th October 2014
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 2nd July 2014 performance at Shakespeare's Globe, Globe Walk, London SE1 9DT (Tube: London Bridge/St Pauls)
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