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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
Julius Caesar
by Lizzie Loveridge

I once answered Robert Kennedy's fears that his brother's presidency was too short to be remembered by pointing out that (Julius) Caesar had been dictator of Rome for only three years. "Yes", he said, "It helps to have Shakespeare write about you." And so it has.  
--- Richard Goodwin, writer of Concord, Massachusetts

 Julius Caesar
Ian Hogg as Julius Caesar surrounded
(Photo: Manuel Harlan)

It must be in the genes. It is refreshing to find a talented child of a talented father. Often that artistic ability can skip a generation or two before it manifests. Edward Hall will be known as a sought after director in his own right, not just as the son of Sir Peter Hall, who single-handedly transformed a generation of theatre going. Edward Hall's Julius Caesar is ground breaking. He has chosen to give us an intense version of the play, a two and a quarter hour run through, dynamic political play with beautifully matched twin performances from Brutus (Greg Hicks) and Cassius (Tim Pigott-Smith) and design to die for.

Edward Hall's interpretation of Julius Caesar seemed to me to be a play not just about omens and portents and the danger of ignoring them, but also about people changing their minds, the fickleness of political support. In the first few scenes it is Cassius who tries to persuade Brutus that Caesar (Ian Hogg) is a threat to the Republic. It was Brutus' ancestor Decimus Brutus who had rid Rome of the Etruscan king and was one of the founders in the creation of the Roman Republic. Later Caesar is pleaded with by Calpurnia (Siãn Howard) not to go to the Capitol but changes his mind. After his death, the crowd sways from anger at Caesar's murder towards understanding that the end justifies the means under the influence of Brutus' oratory. The crowd switches again when Mark Antony (Tom Mannion) cleverly uses a counter argument initially disguised as praise for Caesar's assassins. The "What If" school of history has much to debate here.

The opening scene is unforgettable, an innovation of light and music and ceremony and celebration. The music, a song "Love of the Republic"; the words Peace Freedom Liberty carved in stone, but despoiled by graffiti; those same words lit in neon lettering. The whole, a brightly lit scene of near adulation for a rather bumbling Caesar, which culminates with a ticker tape welcome, bits of tissue paper tumbling onto the audience in the manner of a Slava's Snow Show.

Mark Antony ascends from a bath of blood pouring the sticky red liquid onto himself with a cup made from what looks like half a human pelvis in some obscure Roman ritual. The explanation, I suggest for this, is that it is Antony's offering of the crown to Caesar which is the seed of the conspiracy to murder Caesar. The choice was clearly between Caesar and the survival of the Roman Republic, the res publica. There is more use of sung music in this production, some Verdi, stirring stuff, adding atmosphere. A ten piece live band supports. I shall remember the black shirted crowd, an echo of Fascism in the brutal way that they hang the unfortunate poet, Cinna (Sean Hannaway) who happens to have the same name as one of Caesar's assassins. In the pre-battle scenes, snow falls settling on the troops, creating a bleak landscape underlining the problems created by Caesar's assassination, the power void which has resulted in civil war. The new lighting technology is in use here in a functional, post modernist design of large tracked lights visible to the audience. The costume is modern dress but with togas draped over the uniforms. It works well. A life size statue of Caesar dominates the scene at his house to underline the cult of the individual.

The main thrust of this production is not the plain countryman, the dog like in his loyalty, Mark Antony, or the orchard loving, vain Caesar who haunts, but the relationship between Cassius and Brutus. Greg Hicks is a Shakespearean actor with immense stage presence, one of the foremost of his generation, mainly due to his wonderful voice with its deep register and inbuilt reverberation. He has this way of emphasising the text with a pause, a hand held out, thumb extended and the echoing emphasis on the last word. He is magnificent as anyone who saw him play Priam in Hall's Tantalus last season, will remember. In his hands Brutus is not only noble but a brilliant politician. Tim Pigott-Smith's Cassius, with another wonderful voice, is well matched to Greg Hicks showing Brutus his dark side, his shadow. Cassius is not a black and white villain but an ordinary man caught up in an extraordinary situation. There is a furious argument between the pair before the battle where Brutus overturns furniture in a fearful and frightening rage, only for him to regain his composure and in a tender moment confess that the news of his wife, Portia's ( Claire Cox) suicide has upset him.

This is the best Julius Caesar I have seen, a hallmarked* production which does justice to the powerful imagery of Shakespeare's language in this graphic play. The political issues stand the test of time and Hall's production is brimming with new and exciting ideas. You have until April 6th to see it! *British standard for gold and silver

Note: The same production team of Edward Hall, designer Michael Pavelka and Ben Ormerod, lighting, will come together to produceRose Rage an adaptation of Shakespeare's Henry VI in two plays at the Theatre Royal Haymarket from 12th June to 21 July 2002

Edward Hall's other plays: Tantalus
Henry V
Reviews of Other productions of Julius Caesar
in New York
in London

Julius Caesar
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Edward Hall

Starring: Greg Hicks, Tim Pigott-Smith
With: Ian Hogg, Siãn Howard, Colin McCormack, Tom Mannion, Chuk Iwuji, Claire Cox, Michael G Jones, Andrew Maud, Stuart Goodwin, Charlie Simpson, Damian Kearney, David Mara, Tonm Harper, Andrew James Storey, Conor Moloney, Sean Hannaway, Adam Kay, Anthony Flanagan, Penelope Woodman, John Hopkins, Finn Caldwell
Design: Michael Pavelka
Lighting Design: Ben Ormerod
Movement Director: Ian Spink
Music by Simon Slater
Sound by Matt McKenzie
Music director: Roger Hellyer
Running time: Two hours ten minutes with no interval
Box Office: 020 7638 8891
Booking to 6th April 2002
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 31st January 2002 performance at The Barbican Theatre, Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London EC2
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