RSC's all-black Julius Caesar in Africa shakes the heart

Jun 11, 2012

Transposing the action to politically volatile Africa gives Shakespeare's play fresh urgency


What you need to know
The Royal Shakespeare Company's revival of the Bard's political drama, Julius Caesar, is re-imagined in modern, politically volatile Africa with an all-black cast. The production is directed by Gregory Doran.

Shakespeare's play, also known as The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, is based on events from Roman history. It portrays the conspiracy against the Roman dictator, his assassination and the defeat of the conspirators in battle.

RSC regular Jeffery Kissoon plays Julius Caesar. Coronation Street actor and Harry Potter centaur Ray Fearon plays Caesar's ally and defender Mark Antony. Paterson Joseph (Casualty, William and Mary) plays Brutus.

What the critics like
Shakespeare's Caesar gets a powerful shot in the arm with Gregory Doran's production, says Michael Billington in The Guardian. To see it played by an all-black British cast is to be reminded of "the wealth of classical acting talent available in this country". Transposing the action to modern Africa gives the play "fresh urgency". It's good to see "we haven't lost the power to radically reinvent" Shakespeare plays.

It's a classy, well-directed ensemble, says Libby Purves in The Times. And the production "moves at a riveting pace". Ray Fearon delivers Mark Antony's speech with rabble-rousing energy while the closing moments are memorably moving. This production "shakes the heart".

The passion of this production is undeniable, says Moya Hughes on What's On Stage. Fearon's masterful portrayal of Mark Antony drips with irony but never loses track of the fact that he is a man determined to exact justice for his friend. This provocative and enjoyable production shows how "the basic humanity of Shakespeare's work continues to resonate with each generation".

What they don't like
After the great forum scene, Shakespeare's play invariably goes downhill, says Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail. There's a "surfeit of butch bellicosity", Patterson Joseph overdoes the yelling, and the diction is often poor. Nevermind, it's still "a watchable, thought-provoking interpretation".  

The RSC appears contractually obliged to stage this play every five minutes, says Fiona Mountford in the Evening Standard. Here's another Caesar triumphantly staged. "But please, Mr Doran, once you're running the whole show from September, could you give this play a short rest?"

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