I can hear this production of Julius Caesar before I can see it. As I walk up to the Globe it rings with music, and inside actors are already milling about, shouting and singing, echoing what the Globe might have been like in Shakespeare’s day when there was no such thing as theatre etiquette. Every time I visit the Globe I admire more and more how Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole manages to utilise the space to add another layer to the storytelling.
When the play has actually begun and Caesar approaches, the din crescendos with boisterous chants that we might have heard more of in our own streets, had we got further in the World Cup. I recently discussed a contemporary reimagining of Julius Caesar with another company, and we spoke at length about how the contrary means of violence supposedly bringing about a greater good was a pattern which repeated itself throughout history and rang true to this day. By placing so many actors amongst the audience, Dromgoole really does succeed in incorporating them into this collective voice of the people. Dromgoole’s staging is an achievement against a classical backdrop. The dress is Elizabethan, the actors occasionally adored with Roman-esque embellishments. In that way, it’s a very convincing insight into the original staging conditions.
If you’re not already familiar with Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, it tells the story of the emperor to be and his popularity amongst his people, which is contested by the rest of the senate who believe in a democratic rule over possible tyranny. So although Brutus (Tom McKay) takes some convincing, in a plan spearheaded by Cassius (Anthony Howell), they plan to assassinate Caesar (George Irving). But, Caesar’s great friend Mark Anthony (Luke Thompson) avenges his death and leads the people in a civil war against the senate.
There aren’t a lot of fancy bells and whistles to this production, it’s played very straight. So, I can only conclude that this production is so engaging because of the calibre of the acting. Irving is a strong presence in the title role, and supporting there’s a brilliant sense of brotherhood between Tom McKay’s brooding Brutus, and Howell’s fierce Cassius. McKay make a Hamlet out of his role, projecting his inner turmoil excellently. Similarly, Thompson’s Anthony is an endearing contrast in himself. Mentions should also go to Christopher Logan who plays Cascar with brilliant comic timing and Keith Ramsay, whose sweet folky lullaby spread a hush throughout an entranced auditorium.
Some critics might argue that this is so purely produced, it lacks imagination, and that’s an understandable viewpoint. Beyond the brilliant acting and staging, the choreography of expansive scenes at war are wasted a little when the pace and tension could increase and carry the play into a stronger climax. As it is, interludes in which soldiers holding spears and shields gradually fan out from their tight formation, marching left to right, is pretty stilted.
They’re always fun, but this is definitely the most bizarre curtain call I’ve seen at the Globe, it fetches a lot of laughs and relieves the bloodbath. Altogether, it’s an impressive showcase of what the Globe does best: a well-researched classical staging of Shakespeare’s work, which does the Bard justice.
Julius Caesar plays at The Globe Theatre until 11 October. For tickets and more information see the Globe Theatre website.