RSC: Julius Caesar Review | The Lowry | Manchester
Softy Caesar (Nigel Barrett) isn’t fit to rule as his bouts of man flu, love of superstition and swooning at compliments are cause for concern to even his closest allies. Despite his wartime bravery and popularity amongst the citizens, insiders plot to fight back his threat to democracy with a murderous revolution, and an intense cast of characters form the goal of killing the people’s favourite before their city descends into chaos.
Focused on the power struggles and divisions that shape today's politics, The Royal Shakespeare Company is pulling this 424-year-old play squarely into the present with director Atri Banerjee’s unforgiving and unspecified placement of the once ancient Rome. Replaced with a rotating stage design, flowery visuals and out-of-the-box casting, the RSC’s contemporary revision of the 1599 classic spins an abstract world that expands on the plays characters with a modern twist.
The youthful ensemble cast are pushed by Cassius’s (Annabel Baldwin) unshakeable confidence and a subtle performance from the gender swapped Brutus (Thalissa Teixeira). Yet the shows more moving speeches are complicated by the production's stylistic choices. The play's themes taps into ambition, hypocrisy and questionable political principles, but the brutal tale of betrayal is backed up with obscure visuals. A countdown clock of death, a tracksuit wearing official and a solar eclipse help to take you out of the story as you are forced to dissect additions that are implemented to no end.
In this black-and-white world where speeches by conspirator Marc Anthony (William Robbinson) are used to sway the crowds into a choreographed mob and black paint replaces blood, which is also weaved alongside projected images of clouds, the production design and the physicality of the performances remove much of the tension from a scene. Downplaying a traitorous group murder plot by miming the violence is visually interesting, but also too calm, too subtle and anticlimactic for a scene in which a multimember murder is taking place. While the productions live musicians and menacing chorus heighten the sinister world, the sweeping fights and dancing mobs feel disconnected from a Shakespeare production and the famous lines, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”.
Rosanna Vize’s minimalist and modern set forms the streamlined backdrop that is built upon with projections and choreography, taking the story out of Rome and keeping the Lowry audience in the precarious present of power-hungry politicians and mob mentality. While RSC’s Julius Caesar serves visually striking imagery and passionate performances, the distracting direction is done at the expense of the narrative and its desire to modernise the text often overshadows the relevance of this classic.
Tickets are available via the Lowry link