“All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.” A statement that is as true today as when it was first uttered in 1977. In fact it was true back when William Shakespeare wrote about a Roman general, statesman and member of the First Triumvirate, whose political life ended in death and dishonour. The play was Julius Caesar, and I had the opportunity to see it recently at the Globe Theatre.
In ancient Rome, the people are celebrating the triumphant return of Julius Caesar (Dickon Tyrrell) from defeating Pompey. The city has made it into a holiday, much to the annoyance of the tribunes Flavius and Murellus (Cash Holland) along with others of the Patrician class, and some members of the Senate who fear Caesar may just be getting too big for his boots – as they used to say in Roman times. There is one other who is worried about Caesar’s celebrations, though for a different reason, an old soothsayer (Omar Bynon) who warns Caesar to “Beware the Ides of March“. Away from the parade and staged events, senator Gaius Cassius Longinus (Charlotte Bate) is plotting to remove Julius before he becomes too powerful. She needs an ally and approaches Marcus Junius Brutus (Anna Crichlow), a known friend of Caesar to rope her into the plot to assassinate the dictator of Rome. The two of them are troubled when they hear that Mark Antony (Samuel Oatley) has three times offered a crown to Julius who has turned it away – each time seemingly more reluctantly.
Worried by this display of monarchical and autocratic behaviour, Cassius and Brutus amass a group of senators, including Publius Servilius Casca (Jack Myers) and they formulate a plan to kill Caesar when he next visits the Senate. On the morning of March 15th (the ides), Caesar ignores the warning of the soothsayer and of his own wife Calpurnia (Amie Francis) and sets off to the Capitolium to see what the Gods have in store for him.
One of the marvellous things about Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is its timelessness. Set in ancient Rome, the story of behind-the-scenes political manoeuvring to remove a leader is as relevant today as when the play was first performed in 1599. Just look at this description of Julius Caesar and see how easily it fits in with some of the current world leaders – “Julius Caesar is seen as the main example of Caesarism, a form of political rule led by a charismatic strongman whose rule is based upon a cult of personality,” Remind you of anyone? The play also demonstrates how one well written and delivered speech can move a nation to action, Something a Mr W Churchill made full use of in the 1940s.
This version has been set – according to the programme – in an alternate modern society – and Designer Khadija Raza reflects that in the costumes which are a mix of traditional and modern militaristic – particularly in Act II. However, this did cause me some minor issues with cast members playing multiple roles basically in the same uniform, which identified them as Team Brutus/Cassius or Team Octavius/Antony but without necessarily identifying them until a name was mentioned. However, that is a minor gripe in an otherwise excellent production of the play. Director Diane Page, along with Fight Directors Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown, makes full and effective use of the Globe’s set but also the groundlings’ area, making them and the rest of us a part of the action. I’m not giving anything away when I say that Julius is murdered, and the scene is very realistically played
out with the audience being very involved in the bloody demise of Caesar.
Of course, one of the major selling points of the show is the amazing oratory and I absolutely loved Samuel Oatley’s performance as Antony. Initially a bare-chested, beer-swilling, good-time guy, Oatley takes Antony to a new plane following Caesar’s death. Racked with grief at the end of Act I, he totally dominates Act II as his ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ speech at Caesar’s funeral totally eviscerates Brutus et al. The use of the word ‘honourable’ throughout is perfectly pitched in the writing and Oatley manages to put the right amount of spite and hate in his delivery to turn the crowd against the conspirators The gender-swapped casting of Brutus and Cassius worked well not only in creating a powerful dynamic between these characters but also in raising a voice to women in the Roman world. Citizens but not allowed to vote, having them in positions of power in this production makes you reflect on the various women who would have been involved in the plot and its aftermath. For example, do you know who Fulvia was? I didn’t until I read the extremely informative programme and realised her significance in Antony’s actions.
Overall, Julius Caesar worked for me. There is a lot of humour in the script, and I do think at times various elements were unnecessarily played for laughs which was a bit of a distraction but on the whole, this production reinforced the greatness of Shakespeare’s works and how, even more than four hundred years after they were written their relevance to the modern world has never diminished. After its stint at the Globe, this production of Julius Caesar is going on tour taking in eighteen venues around the country between now and September, and so I say to you – with apologies to the Bard – Folks, theatregoers, Joe/Jane public; lend them your feet and go to see Caesar in all their glory.
Review by Terry Eastham
Conspiracy to kill, public broadcast of cunning rhetoric, a divisive fight for Greatness. Ancient Rome has never felt closer to home.
When Cassius and Brutus decide Rome’s leader Julius Caesar poses a political threat to their beloved country, there’s only one solution.
Diane Page, winner of the 2021 JMK Award, brings Shakespeare’s brutal tale of ambition, incursion, and revolution to life in the Globe and on tour across the UK.
Charlotte Bate – CASSIUS
Omar Bynon – DECIUS / SOOTHSAYER
Anna Crichlow – BRUTUS
Amie Francis – CALPURNIA
Cash Holland – PORTIA / MURELLUS
Jack Myers – CASCA / OCTAVIUS
Samuel Oatley – MARK ANTONY
Dickon Tyrrell – JULIUS CAESAR
Assistant Director – Indiana Lown Collins
Casting – Becky Paris
Choreographer – Asha Jennings-Grant
Composer – Simon Slater
Costume Supervisor – Sian Harris
Designer – Khadija Raza
Director – Diane Page
Dramaturg – Jesse Haughton-Shaw
Fight Director – Rachel Bown-Williams
Fight Director – Ruth Cooper-Brown
Globe Associate – Movement – Glynn MacDonald
Globe Associate – Text – Christine Schmidle
Voice – Emma Woodvine
14 MAY – 10 SEPTEMBER 2022