Review: JULIUS CAESAR, London, Eng.

by Lynn on July 14, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London, England

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Dominic Dromgoole
Designed by Jonathan Fensom
Choreographed by Siân Williams
Catherine Bailey
Sam Cox
Anthony Howell
George Irving
Christopher Logan
Tom McKay
Katy Stephens
Luke Thompson

An ok production with a moving Brutus and Mark Antony and a really annoying Julius Caesar

The Story. Oh the dreaded H-word. I mean hubris. Julius Caesar comes back triumphant from war with Pompey. The people go crazy with adulation when he comes home from Rome. Some of Caesar’s trusted followers think he’s getting too uppity. They think he might want to be crowned king even though he has refused that honour. But as a friend of mine said about such things, Richard III refused his crown three times before he gave in to please the folks. Of course it’s all manipulation and games playing.

So because some of Caesar’s followers think he’s getting too big for his toga, they plot to kill him. A bit excessive, that, but still. Brutus, Caesar’s loyal friend, is convinced that killing him is the only way. It’s not as if Caesar didn’t have warning. First a soothsayer tells him to beware the Ides of March. Then Caesar’s wife Calpurnia has had a bad dream that she is fearful of Caesar going to the senate house, so she convinces him to stay home. Then his ‘friends’ come to fetch him and convince him to go. (“I told him, Julie don’t go……” sorry, it’s a wonderful old comedy skit about this….Canadian, doncha know). Caesar does go. And he’s killed in the senate house. On the Ides of March. (That always confused me. When someone asks the date, the answer is that “March hath wasted 16 days, which to me means it’s March 16. But never mind. Different calendar I guess.

At Caesar’s funeral, Brutus explains why they did it. Then after they leave Mark Antony has his turn. With careful wording and manipulation he is able to turn the crowd to his side. They riot. There is more fighting between the factions of Brutus and Mark Antony.

Brutus’s wife kills herself when her husband doesn’t come home when she thought he would. There are other suicides by those who are humiliated by their loss in battle; one is Brutus. Mark Antony, ever the statesman, affords Brutus full military honours at his funeral.

The Production. Director Dominic Dromgoole has the stage set for Caesar’s return to Rome while the audience files into the theatre. Audiences love watching that stuff—how the magic is actually made. A stage manager of sorts, in costume, sits on a stool, reading the set plot and instructs his men in how to put it together. First ‘marble’ columns are erected. Various trappings of pomp and finally two additions are attached to an overhang. At least I’m assuming this is to make Rome suitable for the return of their conquering hero.
Dromgoole uses the Yard—the area where the Groundlings stand—with peasants pushing carts into the space so they can get a good look at Caesar as he arrives. Caesar arrives with his entourage through the audience (Groundlings). Caesar walks slowly, confidently, waving to the crowd. As Caesar, George Irving is confident, very soft spoken which means that he makes people listen to what he’s saying. He knows how to play people; how to smile and win them. Interestingly I find that Irving doesn’t seem to like to actually look at the people he is talking to. I don’t think this is direction. I think this is a selfish actor.

Dromgoole is not the most inventive of directors. He has characters downstage talking to characters up stage time and time again. And the character downstage does not turn and face the person upstage. It’s more like the man downstage does a quarter turn to his left and looks upstage to the person behind him and to the left. It’s an awkward stance. I got a cramp in my neck watching this happen again and again.

There is an interesting move though. Brutus does not kill himself really, sort of. He is faced with a character who is in a robe with the head covered by a hood. When the character reveals himself, it’s the ghost of Caesar. Caesar is the one who kills Brutus. Or is it that the ghost gets retribution by having it look like the ghost does it, or makes Brutus do the right thing by killing himself. Don’t know. I just thought it was interesting. As Brutus, Tom McKay is strapping, committed, honourable and troubled by the whole political situation. As Mark Antony, Luke Thompson is charming, charismatic, and clever. You can see how he manipulates the mob using calm and innuendo. The mob is stupid and he plays on that.

As Portia, I find Catherine Bailey a bit too abrasive and tough. How then does one explain her suicide later when her husband does not come home when he says he will? That juxtaposition just doesn’t make sense. As Calpurnia, Katy Stephens is regal, pleading and not hectoring when she asks Caesar to stay home. (“Julie, I’m telling you, don’t go….”). And of course the production ends with a rousing dance to intoxicating music. The cast are joyous at this. It’s lovely to see and gets the audience roused.

Comment. Dominic Dromgoole has moved Shakespeare’s Globe on from its successful beginning under Mark Rylance, the Globe’s first artistic director. The place is still packed but the quality of the company has increased. Aside from Rylance and a few other notable actors, the company was mainly made up of recent theatre school graduates. Nothing wrong with that, but you do need substantial senior actors to elevate the quality. Eve Best is playing Cleopatra. Dromgoole has done that and had strong directors to direct. He’s also taken chances on untried directors. Last year Eve Best directed a solid Macbeth. He’s built the Sam Wanamaker Theatre that is lit by candle light apparently, and so has theatre all year round. Huge accomplishments. He’s a better administrator than director if seems.

Produced by Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

First Performance
: June 20, 2014
Closes: Oct. 11, 2014
Cast: 24; 20 men, 4 women
Running Time: 2 hours 45 minutes.

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1 Jessica Godlman July 15, 2014 at 8:24 am

A Wayne and Shuster reference!! Love it!! Bravo, Lynn. As always your reviews are great fun to read.
BTW – my favorite part of that skit was the opening when Flavius Maximus talks about the Ides of March falling after the Festival of Pan – named for the God of Theatrical Criticism………