Tag Archives: Thriller

“Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare

at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Friday 1st June 2012

*The performance reviewed was a preview*

Doran’s ‘all black’ production (an odd description, in my opinion: you wouldn’t necessarily describe a cast as ‘all white’) of Julius Caesar, cut down to two hours and fifteen minutes, feels like a modern political thriller, though it lacks any real drama and could do with having more pace. Seeing as Caesar is murdered halfway through the text, this cannot be blamed much on Doran, though the second half of the production feels slow by comparison and fails to really say much about the nature of dictatorships.

We enter the theatre to jovial music and a lively, crowded stage, and as the lights go down it’s clear that Caesar is loved by all. He had led his people to a victory and created a happier lifestyle. What’s odd, though, is that this feels like the jubilation which follows a revolution, and though images of tyranny (a large statue, pictures of Caesar) are present, this is far too happy a state and doesn’t bear the marks of repression at all. This means the plot of Brutus and Cassius to overthrow the ‘tyrant’ comes out of nowhere and is difficult to understand.

And while this production manages to ask questions about the nature of military coups and the shifting nature of politics internationally, the attempt to mix it with images of the Arab Spring falls short. This play is about the politician, not the ordinary man, which is utterly incongruous with the clips of popular uprisings we have seen over the past eighteen months.

That said, the central cast play the manipulative and charismatic politicians of the play with impressive honesty. Jeffery Kissoon’s ageing Caesar bears resemblance to many past-it dictators, and puts on a kind face for the masses. The problem is, we never really see him lose his rag and his wrongdoings aren’t evident, meaning Cyril Nri’s bewildered Cassius has a harder job to convince us that he deserves to die. Ray Fearon’s Mark Antony is powerful though gentle, and is the closest we get to hearing the people speak; his speech to the populace is fantastic, though by the end of the play it’s easy to see that he could just as easily follow in the conspirators’ footsteps by creating another dictatorial regime. Paterson Joseph is here on top form as Brutus, overly ambitious and willing to die for what he believes, even though that opinion is tough to endorse. They are supported by a fine cast who inject energy into the play (though the accents are sometimes a little, shall we say, scattered).

There are clear military references in Michael Vale’s set, which looks like the steps of the Pergamon built out of Soviet breeze blocks, though it feels a little static for a play which sees such broad shifts in location, tone and government. A bizarre moment sees a section of the copper back wall rise up for no apparent reason, and scene changes could be smoother. It’s also lit to excess by Vince Herbert, though Akintayo Ekinbode’s African music is interwoven well and changes with the state, as it moves from happy union to a land of turmoil.

Doran’s production is solid and strong, and I welcome the cutting of an interval in order to create a more thrilling atmosphere, but it’s difficult to shy away from the fact that, no matter how hard we try to philosophise in the UK, it’s tough to really know the effect and questions surrounding the Arab Spring. There are also holes in the plot and drama which means this Caesar doesn’t feel that tragic, plodding along with an unclear trajectory.

I also wonder about the verisimilitude of the term “World Shakespeare Festival”, particularly the Royal Shakespeare Company’s take on the idea. Though Boyd et al have invited companies from Iraq and Brazil to perform in their theatres, the majority of productions have been created by British directors – Roxana Silbert and David Farr co-ordinate the ‘Nations at War’ and ‘Shipwreck Trilogy’ respectively. This production of Julius Caesar now adds to that list, and though British directors setting plays abroad is by no means a Bad Thing (after all, Shakespeare did it), it feels remarkably like the RSC is giving us a peculiarly British version of the world. Naturally, collaboration between nations should be encouraged, but it feels slightly disingenuous to use the adjective “World” to mean “British-directors-setting-plays-somewhere-that-isn’t-Britain-with-a-few-actors-from-around-the-world”. It would be far better to have foreign directors tackling these plays with the RSC’s resources to give an entirely different perspective in order that we may learn from one another.

Overall, this once again feels like a missed opportunity to have a genuinely global discussion; perhaps in a different context Julius Caesar would be more impressive, but under the banner of the ‘World Shakespeare Festival’ it falls at the first hurdle.

Pinterest board here: http://pinterest.com/danhutton/julius-caesar-by-william-shakespeare/

“Macbeth” by William Shakespeare

at Shakespeare’s Globe, Tuesday 4th May 2010

There is something rotten in the state of Scotland. Food rots. Flesh rots. Society rots. As Malcolm says, “I think our country sinks beneath the yoke: It weeps, it bleeds, and each new day a gash Is added to her wounds.” Macbeth is the closest we come in Shakespeare to a full-blown thriller, and Lucy Bailey’s new production at the Globe sets out to prove exactly this. Blood spews out all over the floor as we are reminded how soon a society can break down.

The main idea on show here is that hell can easily creep into the real world. The three weird sisters, present on stage for much of the three hours playing time and thus acting as the perpetrators of the story, always appear from the bowels of the theatre. Bloodied bodies gasp for air from trapdoors and grasp at thin air. These images echo those in slasher films, and in many ways Bailey’s production is just as nail-biting as the horror movies we all know and love.

Sound plays a prominent role in the piece, and Orlando Gough’s score hears bagpipes, horns and trombones screech away layers of contrapuntal textures. Music strikes up suddenly at moments of high tension and as the pipes wail away we can’t help but think that this society is crumbling.

Heads poke out from a black cloth covering the yard, and these protrusions of the uppermost part of the groundlings’ bodies frame the entire production. Floating eerily but also strangely fixed, they frame the stage and the play itself. Whilst they surround the stage they also symbolise the gruesome battles at each end of the narrative. The stark blackness of Katrina Lindsay’s design is vivid and dark even before Macbeth takes control. The bodies of the dead enter and exit just as frequently as the live characters.

Whilst the physicality and design of this production are extremely savage, the performances of some of the central characters leave much to be desired. Weakest is Laura Rogers’ Lady Macbeth, who has none of the decisiveness and cunning that Shakespeare’s strongest female character needs to be successful, and the performance is far too considered. Moments after asking the gods to “unsex” her, she throws herself inexplicably at her husband and her decent into madness is simply unconvincing.

Elliot Cowan’s Macbeth also lacks the status that is required in order to be King material, and in the first half of the play it is hard to believe there is any motive for Macbeth’s actions at all. Cowan manages to turn the tables later in the play, however, and really comes into his own as Macbeth himself loses the will to live.

It is clear that Bailey’s production sets out to be a thriller. There is no doubt that this is the case, especially in scenes involving death, but at far too many points in the play the pace drops to points which seem to be within the very Hell Macbeth’s Scotland is trying to save itself from. The interpretation itself has no faults, but without a constant feeling of doom we cannot feel empathy for many of the characters.