Julius Caesar (1985): Library Theatre, Manchester
PrJulius Caesar (1985)
PRINCIPAL CAST: Rod Arthur (Marcus Brutus); Gordon Case (Mark Antony); Ted Richards (Julius Caesar); Robert Whelan (Cassius).
This production ran from 7 - 30 March 1985.
"With Romans in full-dress uniform, lashings of gold braid on white jackets, purple forage caps and spats, I thought I had stumbled in on The Student Prince, or perhaps a convention of those foreign traffic cops. Julius Caesar at the Library Theatre is no toga and sandals epic. Instead, the quirky dictator and his killers wear the sartorial trappings of a banana republic ripe for a coup. It's the gaudy garb of the popinjay, a regalia of pride about to fall come the revolution. This is Rome more Orwell than Shakespeare, with Caesar as Big Brother. Charles Cusick-Smith's slick set, stippled regal purple with ragged red drapes, has the despot's face flyposted on every wall, while three giant portraits centre stage show that Big C is always watching us. One man's assassin is another man's freedom fighter and director Harold Lloyd-Lewis takes the line that this could be any modern power struggle, Julius any political leader bumped off for the common good. He has pruned the play from its numbing length and relies on tapes of the pleb hordes and final battle to good effect, particularly in the second act where the conspirators have turned guerrillas, dogs of war in Khmer Rouge khaki. Caesar is no laurel-wreathed Colussus; Ted Richards gives us a ranting tyrant so consumed with arrogance he believes his own PR. He's not so much vile as unhinged by absolute power, wild-eyed with manic mannerisms, which owe much, I suspect, to Basil Fawlty. Still, it all makes a refreshing change. Robert Whelan's Cassius is a master of agit-prop, lean, hungry, and lethal as a barracuda. He doesn't seem driven by envy or hate, or the need to purge Rome's system. Brutus however, is a solid sort of chap; Rod Arthur makes him an honest soldier torn by conscience, love and duty...Gordon Case is no romanticised Mark Anthony either. He plays the funeral oration low key, perhaps too light on the irony, then turns instant fascist, as ruthless a leader as old Caesar. The message seems to be the futility of the struggle - chop off the head of the Gorgon and another grows in its place." ~ Stephanie Ferguson, Guardian, 9 March 1985
"Blood, blood, glorious blood. I know Julius Caesar should be no laughing matter but I am afraid I can't take the Library Theatre production seriously. It does tend to wallow in symbolism of the red stuff. Director Howard Lloyd-Lewis has stripped and cut the play, partly out of economic necessity, but also in an attempt to make it into a political power struggle relevant to any time or place. There are lots of things I don't like but what undermined the production for me were the costumes. Gentlemen of the cast are attired in white, double-breasted waiter-like jackets and black pants, with oodles of gold braid, purple cuffs and nifty matching capettes. It looks Ruritanian, as though John Hanson might at any moment stroll on for a quick burst of The Drinking Song. Ladies however, in baubles and bangles, look like the chorus of Kismet. Then, as hostilities break out in earnest after the interval, the lads, looking more uncomfortable and ill at ease than before, don baggy khaki with searing red sashes and the whole stage is draped in tattered shocking pink and lit by scarlet flames. I withhold the designer's name in recognition that everyone is entitled to the odd mistake. As for the rest, it's an average rep production of what isn't Shakespeare's best play, with a lot of declaiming and not a lot of conviction. For novelty value there's a black Calphurnia and a black Anthony." ~ Alan Hulme, Manchester Evening News, 9 March 1985
"Red predominates as blood threatens to engulf the stage. Indeed, this visual effect becomes one of the main statements, together with the notion of the military nature of the rebellion, state confronting new-made freedom fighters. Designer Charles Cusick-Smith, not content with columns plastered with Caesar's image, must needs wheel in Roman porticos to left and right perhaps to convince us that, after all, this is ancient Rome. There is instant attack in the performances, evidence of a determination to galvanise Shakespearian students into attentive study? So much male vying for the limelight is difficult to withstand in so brief a space. Recorded crowd noises are a woeful mistake, although some of the musical effects suggest a more subtle approach. There is no toying with mixed feelings. Each character is cut and dried; no trace of 'compare and contrast' or 'consider.' Not surprisingly, the two women are mere tokens; there is scarcely a pause for tenderness." ~ Stella Flint, Daily Telegraph, 9 March 1985