EDINBURGH FESTIVAL '98: Comedy; Julius Caesar goes to Malawi

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
THE AFRICAN Julius Caesar opens with the type of boxing show that would make Don King proud. After successfully challenging the Germans, French and English, Julius Caesar defeats the mighty Pompei to be crowned Emperor of Rome. In the space of 10 minutes, any fears you might have harboured about yet another Shakespeare adaptation disappear.

Set in the beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens, The show combines Malawian dancing and culture with Shakespearian dialogue. And herein lies the secret of the production's success. As the play unfolds, you find yourself enjoying the original text more than usual. The African dancing scenes serve as reminders that the play, as is the case with so many of Shakespeare's works, mirrors the plight of several modern nations. Not least African ones.

The final scene best encapsulates the subtlety of the production. While virtually every character is lying dead, the triumphant survivors, dressed in modern military uniforms, dance to welcome but also to affirm the new regime. And so, as the actors encourage the audience to join in the celebrations, the moral of the tale dawns on you. Is the new dictator any better than his predecessor? Is there any point in replacing like with like?

Runs until 31 August at the Theatrum Botanicum (0131 226 5257).