Review: Julius Caesar @ New Theatre
But fittingly for Black History Month, we have been given by the Royal Shakespeare Company, an all black cast for Julius Caesar, set in a corrupt war-torn African country. Radical takes on the bard's works are a major risk, but this production added great insight into the content of the writing. The accents used could be at times be hard to digest when hearing what they had to say, but most lines were clear to hear.
Being a lover of ancient Roman history, this is a play that I have always wanted to see. Antony & Cleopatra or even Titus Andronicus are rarely staged, but I would certainly make the effort to see them live. Apparently, it is now known where exactly Caesar was assassinated in Rome, which still exists to this day. In what later become a sewer, no less! But since his death is common knowledge, it raises the question of was there really any good reason to have him killed. Granted, he wanted to be an emperor and subdue democratic proceedings, but his death appeared to be in vain since numerous and even some demonic emperors followed in the coming centuries. He was the first Roman to arrive on British soil, something that is much less famous than his demise.
In this production we saw a large statue of Caesar, his back to the audience and right arm punched into the air in solute. The statue is later toppled in a resemblance of the one of Saddam Hussein famously falling over in footage that was seen worldwide. Indeed the build-up of moments before the killing is both frantic and tense. We see the senators quake and relish the thought of doing Caesar in. When he does arrive we never know when it would happen or just how long it would last for. The stage combat for this was less than impressive. But having an actor being stabbed 23 times for the performance must prove to be hard work. As I saw this on stage, I asked myself 'Why can't this happen to Robert Mugabe?' He certainly has a pivotal role in this the making of this production and being one of the last dictators around, I am amazed no attempts at his life have been successful. I could easily go on about him for longer...
Theo Ogundipe as the Soothsayer added a primal and majestic feel to the play. He watched over most of the action and had one of the most famous lines of the entire play: "Beware the Ides of March", his chilling call to Caesar not to go to the Capital on this particular day. Mark Antony played by Ray Fearon was a powerhouse of a performance, not to mention his physique. No one seems to have lamented his good friend's death more than him and a great deal of shouting was put upon him. We were also treated to traditional music throughout. As I arrived into the theatre it sounded like carnival. You never would have thought you were about to witness a tragedy. Curious instruments such as the kora and the mbira were included and were a rare sight to see.
The second act seems to lose certain tension and urgency after the crime had been done. I was taken aback at how abrupt the end was as well. The story could very easily be summed up in a few sentences. Some of Shakespeare plays could easily be much longer (and Lord knows they are!) but the length here was sufficient enough.
See it if you can!