Julius Caesar (2012): Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Shakespeare Theatre
PrJulius Caesar (2012)
PRINCIPAL CAST: Adjoa Andoh (Portia); Ray Fearon (Mark Antony); Paterson Joseph (Brutus); Jeffery Kissoon (Julius Caesar); Cyril Nri (Cassius).
The first performance of this production took place on 28 May 2012. The production had an all black cast, the first of its kind at the Royal Shakespeare Company. It was staged as part of the World Shakespeare Festival that was itself part of the Cultural Olympiad, a festival that was running in tandem with the London 2012 Olympics. The production transferred to London's West End, toured the UK and also played at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York and in Russia.
"This, of all Shakespeare's plays, badly needs a shot in the arm - and it receives a powerful one in this production by Gregory Doran, the RSC's artistic director designate, who has transposed the action to modern Africa. To see it played by an all-black cast is also to be reminded of the wealth of classical acting talent available in this country....the real strength of Doran's production lies in its attention to character....And, in a male-dominated play, there are strong cameos from Adjoa Andoh and Ann Ogbomo, who, as the wives, respectively, of Brutus and Caesar display a vehement sence of reality denied their deluded husbands." ~ Michael Billington, The Guardian, 7 June 2012, in Theatre Record 2012, Issue 12
"We should take pride in Shakespeare nowadays as a world writer, not an English one, just as we should take pride in London being the most international of cities. Hence the current World Shakespeare Festival. If you think this sounds too fashionably multiculti, you might wonder about Gregory Doran's new Julius Caesar, set in modern Africa, with an all-black cast. Anything to avoid admitting our national poet's embarrassing dead-white-maleness." ~ Christopher Hart, "Shakespeare with muscles", Sunday Times, 10 June 2012
"Now, thought, this political drama is scorchingly reinvigorated in Gregory Doran's staging which - with a superb ensemble of black British actors - translates ancient Rome to modern-day Africa. It's a startingly close fit....The verse-speaking is vibrant, the characters complex." ~ Kate Bassett, "From Ancient Rome to Africa, dictators fall", Independent on Sunday, 10 June 2012
"[Doran's] audience comes in to find a stage already full of music, hawkers, quarrels, chants, dancing and bright orange banners of the Leader's face exuberantly worn as shirts or scarves. The entrance of the irritated police tribunes with 'Hence home, you idle creatures!' and the subsequent cheeky ribbing by the cobbler completes the triple vision: Elizabethan London, unruly Imperial Rome and a modern African dictatorship....Doran fields some powerful and familiar black actors: Jeffery Kissoon is Caesar, a heavyset, smoothly groomed ruler whose self-assured judgment is undermined by vanity...Brutus (Paterson Joseph) has an ambiguous, restlessly thoughtful nobility...His paternal, exasperated, fond passages with the boy servant Lucius (the RSC debutant Simon Manyonda, of whom we will here more) are touching. Joseph Mydell's sardonic Casca and Cyril Nri's lean angry Cassius stand out strongly as well. It's a classy, well-directed ensemble and moves with faultless, riveting pace to the assassination and to Mark Antony's speech, which Ray Fearon executes with a rabble-rousing energy." ~ Libby Purves, "Blood and treachery with an African twist on the Ides of March", The Times, 8 June 2012
"Director Gregory Doran sets this production of Julius Caesar in sub-Saharan Africa. An innocent poet, misidentified by a politically fired mob, is killed by a tyre-and-petrol 'necklace', once a favoured method of Winnie Mandela's friends in Soweto. Brutus's young servant Lucius (Simon Manyonda) becomes a boy soldier, as seen in the badlands of Rwanda. Caesar himself (an interestingly ambiguous turn from Jeffery Kissoon, part imperious, part voracious for popular support), carries a fancy fly whisk, just as Jomo Kenyatta did. Mr. Doran is not the first to set Shakespeare in the continent. For instance, there was a superb Macbeth at Wilton's Music Hall in London a few years ago which was played like a Congo war story. If this 'JC' does not quite match that, it may be because the verse speaking is often indistinct and rushed, the whole enterprise becoming perhaps ten percent too frenzied. But the concept itself is pretty neat and thoroughly believable....Then comes the problematically early climax of the 'Friends, Romans, Countrymen' speech of Mark Antony, done with astonishing energy by Ray Fearon. Top stuff, even if I might have liked his earlier 'Let slip the dogs of war' speech to have been quieter. In front of the crowd, however, Mr. Fearon lets rip, his rhetoric whipping up a tribal chant for the murdered Caesar....Paterson Joseph over does the yelling as Brutus and Ivanno Jeremiah's Octavius Caesar looks more like a Monte Carlo princeling than a potent young general. The diction is frequently poor. Never mind. This is watchable, thought-provoking interpretation. All the actors are black. Thank goodness Mr Doran, the Royal Shakespeare Company's incoming supremo, felt able to ignore the politically correct fad for colour-blind casting." ~ Quentin Letts, Daily Mail, 8 June 2012, in Theatre Record 2012, Issue 12
"The production is also a reminder of the strength in depth of British black actors. There isn't a dud performance here, and Shakespeare - who was such an enduring inspiration to Nelson Mandela and his fellow inmates on Robben Island - sounds just fine with an African accent. Akintayo Akinbode has come up with an exciting score influenced by highlife and afrobeat music performed by a band that wittily dub themselves the Vibes of March. There is also a highly dramatic design by Michael Vale that simultaneously suggests a Roman amphitheatre and a crumbling present-day African football stadium, dominated by a grandiose statue of Caesar that at a key moment comes crashing to the ground....Paterson Joseph memorably captures the disconcerting mixture of moral decency, sudden moments of kindness and smug self-regard that make up Brutus's complex character...Meanwhile Cyril Nri conveys both the political savvy, the chippiness and the touching need for friendship of Cassius. Ray Fearon, all rippling musculature and first seen in a gleaming white athletics kit, is a superbly charismatic Mark Antony, and the scene in which he whips up the plebs to rebellion with the sheer power of his rhetoric is thrillingly done." ~ Charles Spencer, "A thrilling twist for the Bard", Daily Telegraph, 8 June 2012
"The piece is performed by a crack all-black cast on an imposing set by Michael Vale...The casting is excellent. Beating his chest and rolling his r's impressively as he recalls his heroically republican ancestors, Paterson Joseph's excellent Brutus projects both a radiant righteousness and the blind naivety of certain types of idealist. When he greets Ray Fearon's charismatically dishy Mark Antony just after the assassination, his bloody hands are raised in a ridiculously misplaced gesture of modest pride over the corpse, quite as if Antony will be only too happy to agree with Brutus's wishful belief that the killing represents high-minded sacrifice rather than brutal butchery." ~ Paul Taylor, "All hail Caesar as some new blood reinvigorates a Roman tragedy", The Independent, 11 June 2012
"Crucially, though, Doran isn't just a man for the big gesture. Sure, the setting is bold - and it reminds us how unusual it still is to see an all-black cast - but it's filled with precision-worked individual details. Take Lucius (Simon Manyonda), for example. The tiny part of Brutus's 'boy' servant almost always passess unremarked, but this time Lucius traces a telling arc, from an amiable shorts-wearing youth with too much time on his hands, to a child soldier in yet another of Africa's seemingly interminable civil wars." ~ Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard, 7 June 2012, in Theatre Record 2012, Issue 12
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