Theatre: Too little insurrection
Theatre: JULIUS CAESAR, SHAKESPEARE'S GLOBE, LONDON
Friday 28 May 1999
In his new all-male staging of the play at Shakespeare's Globe, Mark Rylance does not have to go to such costly lengths to create this crucial presence. Indeed, with a courtyard full of groundlings at whom Brutus and Mark Antony can direct their political make-or-break funeral orations, you could say the situation is amusingly reversed - a large proportion of the audience here is paying for the privilege of impersonating the throng that rhetorical skill so easily turns into a mob.
Julius Caesar was one of the first Shakespeare plays to be staged in the newly built Globe precisely 400 years ago (a Swiss doctor, Thomas Platter, wrote approvingly of a performance in "the straw-thatched house" on the south bank of the Thames), so it makes a fitting start to what is being billed as an "anniversary season".
Certainly, the piece, "in theory, at least", is uncommonly well-suited to the space. Rylance's production follows the practice of having the Romans dressed in contemporary Elizabethan garb (ruffs et al) with antique adjustments, like the togas that are tied over this attire in the assassination scene. Here, though, there is a triple time-frame effect, for the voluble cast members planted around the audience are camouflaged in present-day mufti, with reversed baseball caps etc.
The inn-yard intimacy of the Globe's architecture has, in the past, encouraged a potentially dangerous atmosphere of ugly partisanship. Ironically, there was precious little sense of mob danger at the first night of Caesar. While the plants from the cast, aroused by the sentimental pitch from Mark Lewis-Jones's ranting, unshaded Antony, urged torchings and insurrection, the punters stood by as phlegmatic as statues, apart from when switching off their mobile phones or wandering back with refreshments.
Perhaps they were overcome by embarrassment at being directly recruited. The heckling was eerie only by its complete absence. Meanwhile, the audience's representatives on stage were busy kicking Cinna the poet to death.
The Elizabethan dress brings home to you what a live and touchy issue the play's subject - the ethics of tyrannicide - must have been for the original audiences. The scene where the conspirators gather in Brutus's orchard put you in mind of The Gunpowder Plot.
But in other respects, this is a decent rather than an exciting Julius Caesar. Richard Bremmer makes a mordant impression as a suitably lean and gloweringly resentful Cassius, and Danny Sapani radiates a naive and self-deceived honourableness as a youthful Brutus. It would be good, though, to see a production at the Globe that had had the attention of a top-league director.
To 21 September, 0171-401 9919. A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits record low as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Germany sees 'visible rise' in support for far-right extremism in response to perceived 'Islamisation' of the West