Et tu RSC? Barbican has last laugh with Bard's return

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The Independent Culture

When the Royal Shakespeare Company made the controversial decision to abandon its Barbican home three years ago, it marked the end of an era for the landmark venue.

When the Royal Shakespeare Company made the controversial decision to abandon its Barbican home three years ago, it marked the end of an era for the landmark venue.

But now the Barbican appears to be having the last laugh by attracting a star-studded cast for its lavish production of the Bard's Julius Caesar, including Ralph Fiennes as Mark Antony.

It is the first Shakespeare play to be produced by the Barbican since the departure of the RSC. The contemporary production, directed by Deborah Warner, also stars, Simon Russell Beale as Cassius, Anton Lesser as Brutus and Fiona Shaw as Portia, and will feature an army of more than 100 extras.

The RSC decided to pull out of the Barbican in 2002, after 20 years in residence at a theatre where the stage was designed specifically for the company. The company's artistic director, Adrian Noble, wanted to take the RSC on a tour of other London venues.

However, the Barbican later announced that it would fill the void by producing its own plays. The first in-house production was Black Rider, which opened to critical acclaim last year before touring to San Francisco and Sydney.

Julius Caesar is the second play to be produced by the Barbican and its first attempt at Shakespeare. But its tenacity in attracting top directors and actors appears to have paid off - last night, the audience included the actors Lauren Bacall, David Schwimmer (of Friends fame) and Saffron Burrows.

The production - which has already sold out its entire London run - will continue with a European tour to Paris, Madrid and Luxembourg.

Before Fiennes hit the celluloid big time, he and Lesser crossed swords in the RSC's The Plantagenets, while he starred alongside Russell Beale in Troilus and Cressida.

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