Julius Caesar is often described as Shakespeare’s greatest political play and Gregory Doran’s inspired new Africa-set brutal production doesn’t disappoint.
Any Ancient Roman ideals of decorum are stamped all over in the opening scene, which leaves you feeling as if you’ve wandered into a party you hadn’t been invited to. The cast chants and sings in praise of their God-like revered leader Caesar, while a painted shaman performs tribal dances amongst the contrasting jogging bottoms and trainers clad crowd.
In typical Shakespearean style, it’s a shaman you’d be wise to listen to but one that the all-powerful Caesar predictably ignores to fatal effect. When his trusted group of confidents conspire against him, a twisted view of honour and morality leads to assassination and political collapse as his previously trusted friend Brutus unravels.
Doran’s production is all-consuming with the high emotion and chaotic action played out on a grand but subtly dilapidated stone set with a monstrous statue of the leader dominating the backdrop. Vince Herbert’s sumptuous lighting staged alongside a soundtrack of cicadas transports you into the warmth of Africa, while Michael Vale’s luxurious but simple costumes give the play’s pivotal scene a terrifyingly gothic edge when the group of conspirators, dressed in black togas, move in on Caesar like famished crows around their prey.
Those who know Paterson Joseph from his previous comedic and suave roles will find the actor transformed for his role as the tortured Brutus, his wide-eyed earnest passion quickly descending into a far more sinister madness, slipping from child-like coyness to crazed rages. Holding court and on stage for almost the entire production, Joseph’s performance keeps you on the edge of your seat with a believable desperation that leaves you equally desperate for him to claw back his conscience before it’s too late.
Supported by an equally engrossing cast, including Ray Fearon as a charismatic and pervasive Mark Antony, Julius Caesar is a vibrant and bold production that is as moving as it is exciting. While the action may take a while to transpire, with tension building slowly but surely, you know it’s only ever moments away from each character reaching their inevitable boiling point.