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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
JULIUS CAESAR
at Shakespeare's Globe

VIOLENT TIMES
By SAM MARLOWE

  Tom McKay/ Ph: Manuel Harlan

You could describe Dominic Dromgoole’s new production of Shakespeare’s Roman drama as a riot. Before the action even begins, the Feast of Lupercal is being celebrated in wild and raucous fashion, both onstage and off. Crowds chant like mobs of football fans. There are grotesque puppet shows, and revelers swarming all over the courtyard and foyer. As the play itself gets underway, a slaughtered cow swings by its hooves over the stage, dropping gore.

This is a multilayered, period-hopping Elizabethan interpretation, accessorised with classical drapery, and the delivery of the text joltingly modern. It gives the staging an immediacy that is reflected in details of the individual performances. George Iriving as Caesar has a grizzled gravitas and quiet menace – a mafia boss of a ruler, ripe for toppling by his discontented subordinates. Mark Antony, played by Luke Thompson, is dangerously smooth – even though he arrives on the day of the assassination pale and wincing thanks to an evil hangover. He gives a gripping rendition of the famous “Friends, Romans, countrymen” oration that swells artfully from faltering and almost apologetic to rabble-rousing emotion.

There’s a homoeroticism, crossed with a flavour of 21st-century bromance, between Tom McKay’s Brutus and Anthony Howell’s Cassius, chief among the conspirators. McKay has a febrile pallor; Howell, bare-chested and testosterone-fuelled, is a strutting alpha male. As for the populace – of which the Globe audience is very much a part – it is fickle, bloodthirsty, verging on hysteria. The murder of Caesar is performed with real unreasoning rage and virulent lust for violence. Later, Caesar’s mutilated corpse is carted on a tumbrel through the groundlings in the yard with callous indifference, as if it were a lump of butchered meat on a slab.

All of this creates a compelling sense of immediacy and urgency. It also galvanises the Globe space, heightening audience engagement – but these advantages sometimes come at the cost of clarity and focus. This is emphatically a very male world, and its virility and aggression can be thrilling, but there’s also a bludgeoning tendency towards hectoring and posturing. On the whole, though, Dromgoole successully brings one of Shakespeare’s less tractable plays kicking, punching and stabbing its way into our own violent times.

 


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