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A CurtainUp London  Review
Julius Caesar

By Lizzie Loveridge

How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted o'er,
In states unborn, and accents yet unknown!
As I have already seen two outstanding productions at the Young Vic with David Lan at the directorial helm (Uncle Vanya for the RSC and earlier this year, 'Tis Pity She's A Whore), I was not surprised at his appointment, earlier this year, as Artistic Director at this innovative London theatre. The Young Vic has always been associated with giving opportunity to emerging talent and here Lan has assembled a young cast to play Shakespeare's play of political murder, revenge and retribution. His production is exciting, full of visual images which underline the imagery of the text but the whole is seriously flawed by some of the performances. 

Brutus (Lloyd Owen) is full of almost pompous self regard. He sternly refuses the pleading of his wife, Portia (Jaye Griffiths). Marius D'Amico's wide-boy Cassius fails to convince and looks more street wise than lean or hungry. Dorian Healy's gold painted Caesar lacks the gravitas of the great politician but Robert Cavanagh's Mark Antony contrasts with a very emotional performance at the death of his patron. 

Lan has some excellent ideas which he translates into dramatic stagecraft with the aid of his talented designer, Stephen Brimson Lewis. The traverse stage cuts a wide, white diagonal swathe across the auditorium. The floor is flooded, the water seeping in slowly, the rain collecting in puddles, giving myriad reflections. Wooden duckboards provide walkways. All this heightens the textual references to the river Tiber, to floods, torrent and waves and reflection as Shakespeare describes Nature's omens and portents. This is the first time I remember seeing Mario Borza, the "waterist" credited in the programme, although I see that he also was responsible for the water in Singing in the Rain

At the rear of the stage are the benches of a Roman bath, the places where Romans carried on business and politics. Having just returned from Pompeii and Herculaneum, I appreciated this depiction of Roman life. I particularly liked the way Lan set the sleeping Calpurnia (Phillipa Peak) above the stage to toss and turn while the sinisterly masked and turbaned conspirators connive below. During the night of the omens, high above the stage, flint ladders are set sparking by long poles to give dramatic flashes of light. The monochrome colours and the music are more reminiscent of 1950s gangster television programmes or film of the 1940s, those overly dramatic, and ultimately annoying, chords of The Untouchables making us think more Sicilian Mafia than imperial Rome. 

Julius Caesar must be one the trickiest of Shakespeare's plays to successfully stage. The second half of the play is a soldiery tale of war and consequence. Many of the audiences will be schoolchildren studying the play. They at least should take away a memorable appreciation of the text's imagery. Lan's production also brings out the male domination of Roman society. The future programme at the Young Vic includes Le Costume, directed by Peter Brook, productions from Japan, the holiday production of The Three Musketeers and in the spring, a new version of Pirandello's Six Characters In Search of an Author.
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by David Lan

With: Tom Bowles, Robert Cavanah, Nigel Clauzel, Marcus D'Amico, Evroy Deer, Jaye Griffiths, Dorian Healy, Simon Hunt, Lloyd Owen, Phillipa Peak, Anthony Psaila, Daniel Roberts, Gary Sefton
Design: Stephen Brimson Lewis
Lighting Design: Simon Mills
Composer: John Harle
Waterist: Mario Borza
Running time: Two hours 40 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 020 7928 6363
Booking to 28th October 2000
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 26th September 2000 performance at The Young Vic, The Cut, London SE1. 

ęCopyright 2000, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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