“Men may construe things after their fashion clean from the purpose of the things themselves”
I hadn’t originally intended to take in Gregory Doran’s all-black version of Julius Caesar for the RSC, not for any particular reason than just that it didn’t really appeal. It seemed that my instincts had paid off when it was announced that, with a rather odd sense of timing, the production would be filmed in Stratford-upon-Avon and shown on television before it made its transfer to London’s Noël Coward Theatre and then on to a UK tour. But upon watching this televised version which mixed location shooting with action filmed on-stage, I was utterly seduced by Doran’s reinterpretation which sees the play relocated into some unspecified modern African dictatorship.
Most of what I said about the production in my review of the film still holds true so I won’t repeat myself too much. Having been spoiled by the intimacy that television cameras provided, it was a little difficult to readjust expectations in light of being seated in the rear stalls. Missing so much of the detailing, and indeed the clarity of much of the text in a couple of heavily-accented places, meant that I never felt quite as connected to the action as I had previously been, an interesting thing to discover given that the live experience is the one that is always trumpeted. Michael Vale’s crumbling set design did look impressive though, with its looming statue an ever-present reminder of the seeming inevitability of oppressive leadership.
Paterson Joseph’s Brutus rightly captures the attention with a hugely impassioned tragic dignity, but there’s great work around him too, detailed character work that makes the band of conspirators all the more interesting, particularly with Cyril Nri’s fiercely intelligent Cassius. Ray Fearon’s Mark Antony cleverly suggests he’s no less of a manipulator with his key speech and Simon Manyonda and Adjoa Andoh make persuasive cases for the significant impact of Lucius and Portia respectively, despite their relatively small parts.
Though I’m not sure this is necessarily the best theatre for this particular production, it is nevertheless a strong reminder of the strength of Shakespearean reinterpretation that we have in this country, and a timely one too given the disappointments of Troilus and Cressida. And whilst no-one could say we live in a post-race-conscious world, there’s something gratifying about seeing an all-black cast of such quality in a play where race essentially doesn’t matter.