Julius Caesar review at Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon – ‘a throwback’
The Royal Shakespeare Company launches its Rome season with Julius Caesar, a play I’ve seen twice recently – in Phyllida Lloyd’s remarkable all-female Donmar revival set in a modern women’s prison, and as part of the return of Ivo van Hove’s thrillingly contemporary Roman Tragedies trilogy.
But it is not just by comparison with those stagings that Angus Jackson – who is also the overall director of the Rome season – feels like he’s made a throwback, resolutely old-fashioned production (albeit one in which both Cassius and Antony strip to the waist).
Nor is it only the fact that the Roman court dresses in togas or battle dress. Rather, the actors have been encouraged to declamatory speechifying, and acting in which the words are backed up by illustrative gestures. It feels constantly heavy-handed and overly monumental, a tone set from the off by Robert Innes Hopkins’ design that puts a very solid Capitol on stage, in front of which is a golden statue of a lion wrestling a horse to the ground.
If all of that scenic effect is overpowering, the casting feels frequently underpowered, with a notably young-looking and underpowered Brutus from Alex Waldmann; it’s he, not Martin Hutson’s Cassius, that has “a lean and hungry look” that’s big on earnestness.
Supporting actors around them sometimes feel like they’re in a drama school showing, and with everyone sporting modern-day haircuts, they feel out of joint with the period feeling that the production has otherwise adopted.