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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Shakespeare's Globe


  Tom McKay and Anthony Howell/ Ph: Manuel Harlan

Dominic Dromgoole's production of Julius Caesar kicks off most enjoyably with carpenters, in Elizabethan jerkins, hammering. They construct a temporary triumphal arch before your eyes, adding extra marbled, wooden pillars to those that permanently decorate the stage of Shakespeare's Globe.
A throng of Roman plebs soon comes jostling into the theatre's yard. They mingle with the groundlings in a rumbustious merry humour, chanting "Caesar! Caesar!" because their hero has just militarily defeated Pompey. Some of those higher up the social ladder aren't happy, though. They fear that the glory-loving victor is about to turn the Republic into an autocratic monarchy, wresting powers from the patrician class as well as from the commoners.
George Irving does, indeed, look unpleasantly suave in the title role, exuding an air of smug celebrity and hauteur in his lace-trimmed doublet and gilded toga. Nonetheless, when he opens his mouth, it's disappointing to find that – having conquered swathes of the known world – this Caesar seems barely able to project his voice to the Globe's gallery seats.
Maybe I caught an off-colour performance. A few other cast members rattled through their speeches a mite clumsily. The philosophizing of Tom McKay’s sometimes snobbish, sometimes laddy Brutus isn’t very refined.
Yet Dromgoole’s cast depicts a cell of relatively young conspirators who are driven by impassioned words and panic, as they decide to assassinate Caesar and then struggle with the aftermath. That gets the blood pumping, with immediacy, through veins of a play that can seem coldly political­. Anthony Howell outstandingly portrays Cassius as far more fired-up than obviously cynical.
At the same time, Dromgoole is clearly alert to the rhetorical craftiness of those who frequent the Capitol. One of the tribunes, Sam Cox’s Marullus, berates the plebeians for their blockishness with ferocity, only to turn that off like a tap and chat to his companion. Oratory may be merely a histrionic act, we see – just as the triumphal arch is a hollow façade that can instantly convert back into a flatpack.
Luke Thompson is also deceptive as Mark Antony. He comes across as unimpressively dithering and feeble when he meets with the conspirators immediately after Caesar’s murder. But when left alone with the gore-drenched body, he swears to wreak vengeance, with a disturbingly savage hysteria. As so often, the Wooden O’s audience, huddled round its thrust stage, becomes strongly engaged. We are the citizens in this political arena, as Thompson’s Antony launches into his funeral speech, inviting all those gathered to “make a ring about the corpse.”
The closing battle scenes aren’t heartbreaking or brilliantly choreographed. However, the danced curtain call is absolutely storming, like a folk stomp crossed with an army drill, accompanied by pulsing drums.
Kate Bassett is a theatre critic, arts journalist and author. She writes for The Times of London and, and is associate professor of creative writing at Reading University. Twitter: @katebassett001.


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