Julius Caesar at the RSC

Julius Caesar at the RSC

Deceit, hubris, courage and spinning destinies

Emerging tyrant Julius Caesar has only 5% of the lines in Shakespeare’s play that carries the ruler’s name. So, the bulk of the plot is the divisive fallout when the inevitable vacuum is created after his brutal assassination. And the question hovers like a dark cloud over the brooding stage: what happens when a strong armed leader is murdered? Does a nation fall apart? Who strides centre stage to grab power?

And with this, Shakespeare really goes to town about the ensuing deceit, hubris, courage and spinning destinies of the survivors.

The new RSC production at Stratford allows both the conspirators and loyalists to evolve and develop as they go to war among themselves. Shakespeare seems to say that we small humans are like murderous rats in a sack when left to our own devices.

Cassius, the chief plotter sharply portrayed by Mark Hutson with that lean and hungry look, is hot blooded and remarkably loyal to his rebel cause against Caesar’s rise to power; Brutus (Alex Waldmann) is a voice wavering with doubt but strangely remote as he sways left and right; Mark Antony (James Corrigan) is dynamic and cynically political as he holds true to the dead ruler with that ironic famous speech (“Friends, Romans…”) and then, cold eyed, rips up Caesar’s false will that promises the seething masses so much.

And Caesar (Andrew Woodall) is arch, a stiff unlikeable unyielding hero as both the doomed leader and the blunt ghost that plagues a guilt ridden Brutus.

There are longuers in this production directed by Angus Jackson. Especially late in the play. But that may be Shakespeare’s fault- he has to wrap up a big plot with the inevitable deaths of Brutus and Cassius that allow Marc Antony and a young Octavius to be thrust into history’s limelight.

Set design by Robert Innes Hopkins is monumental with a sense of Roman outsize grandeur. And since the play, which is part of Stratford’s Roman season, sets itself firmly in an ancient world, you get a real sense of these warring men peeping about the huge classical columns and stonework carrying the weight of their conspiracies as they head towards their bloody destinies.

On until 9 September; Box office: 01789 403493; Book online

Words: Richard Lutz