“Why should Julius Caesar be staged in Stansted Airport?” is the first impression one receives as the curtain goes up on Deborah Warner’s production. A vast space, a high roof sensed if not seen, crowd barriers and an unlovely collection of agitators, passers-by and rubbernecks is obviously not Shakespeare as we know him.
A promised three and a half hour running time for what is in many ways one of Shakespeare’s shorter and less dense plays did not lighten the mood either. But thanks to the largest crowd of extras assembled in a London stage since the days of Tree, a remarkably strong cast of principals and some careful sound enhancement by Christopher Shutt, all’s well that ends well.
This is a production to savour and remember: the mob is in front of our eyes, the words come across loud and clear in what we now realise is one of the most cavernous auditoriums in London and there is a clear building-up of tension.
Minor flaws are inclined to be over-emphasised in such a huge production, and Ralph Fiennes is a rather languid Mark Antony, not so much in his delivery of the text as in his general appearance, and because there are so many on stage it is difficult to pick out the smaller roles. The battle scenes also disappoint to a certain extent because they appear to be taking place in the cargo area of the airport and are surprisingly under-populated. But the good points vastly outnumber the disappointing. This could be well turn out to be the Shakespearean high spot of the year, and there are many moments to cherish.
Simon Russell-Beale, though looking neither lean nor hungry, is a memorable Cassius, and Anton Lesser, not notable on the Shakespeare scene of late, is a dangerous if quietly spoken Brutus. John Shrapnel conveys the forceful, even brutal side of Caesar, making one believe that at heart he may be a threat.
But the play is also full of watchable cameos, among them Fiona Shaw as Portia, a tiny role for an actress of such eminence, John Rogan as Artemidorus and Struan Rodger’s sardonic Casca.