JULIUS CAESAR – Shakespeare’s Globe, SE1

BLOOD, POLITICS, RUFFS, AND TOGAS: MUCH TO DELIGHT GUEST REVIEWER CHARLOTTE VALORI

The Globe audience are still filing in as the Roman rabble break into a raucous, drunken football chant of “Lupercal! Lupercal!”  And so Dominic Dromgoole’s production of Julius Caesar begins: organically, almost unassumingly, yet moving steadily into a reading of tension and power which finally makes the giggling groundlings fall silent, listen, and pause. Jonathan Fensom’s design is entirely in sympathy with this period-conscious theatre: his Romans wear Elizabethan ruffs and hose, even if they do throw a toga over the top to go the Senate. Meanwhile, some sharp choreography by Siân Williams, as well as slick delivery and seamless scene-shifting by the company, brings an energy which stops this production descending into fustiness.

Julius Caesar unpicks the psychology of assassination: its anticipation, in frenzied and anxious plotting, polarising political ideals; and its aftermath, in which mutual suspicion leads to betrayal, mistake and unbridled bloodshed. The constant jockeying for position between Cassius, Brutus and Mark Antony is mesmerising, coming out clearly and movingly here in three memorable lead performances. Luke Thompson is a revelation as Mark Antony, winning the audience at his first playboy entrance (clutching his head in wry hungover glee), yet still keeping enough back to make his step-change in grief for Caesar truly terrifying: even in his anguish, we sense the political opportunist par excellence. Thompson delivers his Shakespeare in genuinely contemporary style without unsettling the flow or sense of his lines, revelling in his great speeches, and developing his character with satisfying depth and precision. Tom McKay makes a perfect foil as an earnest and sincere Brutus, who only becomes more fascinating as he grows more desperate. Anthony Howell moves Cassius skilfully from a strong, coherent and articulate start to his defensive, despairing end.

George Irving is a suave and sophisticated Julius Caesar, his elegant delivery tinged with a Transatlantic tone, reminding us how long Caesar has been away on campaign. A confident and charismatic leader, Irving’s stabbing (choreographed by Kevin McCurdy) is brilliantly horrible, the plotters falling instantly into disarray and panic. Cue bloodbath: and, especially in a nice twist in the final scene, Caesar is revenged indeed.

Joe Jameson depicts everyone from the young Augustus (Octavius) to a garrulous cockney shoemaker with enthusiasm, skill and disciplined distinction, always bringing presence even to his smaller parts. Catherine Bailey is clear, poised, subtle and animated as Portia. Katy Stephens plays Calpurnia with focused anxiety and beautiful delivery. Christopher Logan is an unforgettably saucy, camp and believable Casca, while Keith Ramsay is a delightfully sleepy, musical Lucius.

The Globe has its drawbacks: initial misplaced laughter from the audience is always one, and then we have the aeroplanes to contend with, and of course our own dear weather. But every time I go, the Globe stage produces something those other temples of culture, aesthetically sanitised with frowning connoisseurs, sometimes can’t: a freshness and pure physicality of performance, which can suddenly release the meaning of Shakespeare’s darkest moments – when you least expect it. This production is a perfect example.

– CHARLOTTE VALORI

At Shakespeare’s Globe (Box Office 020 7401 9919) until 11 October.

Rating: three 3 Meece Rating

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