Tues 5th- Sat 9th Mar, Fitzpatrick Hall, Queens’ College, 7.30pm
If I were to hedge my rhetoric Mark Antony style, I would have to confess that Julius Caesar is not my favourite Shakespeare play. In fact, I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone whose favourite Shakespeare play is Julius Caesar. Although I went with an open mind, this production, directed by David Tremain, left me cold.
The set was sparse, basically consisting of two red drapes and some furniture, although was immensely improved by the introduction of levels during the interval (the first half was played at floor level), which allowed for a more dynamic use of the space. The lack of set placed a greater burden upon the actors to sustain the energy of the play and, regrettably, they often failed.
Tremain obviously tried to utilise his large cast to capture the sense of the changeable nature of the populace and the tumult of Rome plunging into civil war. Yet the minor characters often lacked dynamism and slowed the pace. The crowd’s responses to Antony’s famous ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen…’ speech, which should have been a lesson in the art of political manipulation of mob psychology, instead appeared rather inhibited and inorganic.
The main characters fared little better. Julius Caesar can be repetitive and has many bombastic speeches. However, the actors failed to bring out nuances of tone, and even differences, between characters.
Aydan Greatrick played Brutus, who is admittedly a cold character, passably as a standard politician, with added honesty, adopting a voice at times reminiscent of Winston Churchill. James Pennington played Caesar as a standard politician, with added arrogance, while Peter Martin played Mark Antony as a standard politician, with added cunning. There was not enough differentiation between Greatrick and Martin’s characterisations to explain why the crowd’s allegiance was suddenly swayed from Brutus to Antony.
There was also a great tendency to overact. The boredom-inducing slow pacing of the first few scenes meant that the audience was not prepared to connect emotionally with Brutus in his deliberations about whether he should kill Caesar. Martin, meanwhile, ruined some of his more subtle moments of characterising Antony by veering into shouting at the top of his voice. Louis Morris managed successfully to differentiate Cassius from the other generals by providing some entertaining physical and verbal ticks but these were often overdone and became irritating.
The production seemed confused about the time period it was going for and, for a play that makes so much reference to particular weapons, irritatingly imprecise about which of the swords/ guns/ what looked like craft knives they used when. If a character says that they are going to run on their sword and there are at least four swords on stage, it is baffling and vaguely comic if they then attempt this grand gesture with a puny dagger.
One of the few redeeming features was the diction. We heard every word slowly and clearly, sometimes torturously so, making this production useful if you want to acquaint yourself with Shakespeare’s text but, unfortunately, not so useful if you want an interpretation that actually adds anything to the play.