You have to wonder if RSC artistic director Greg Doran had the inside track on the outcome of the American elections when he decided to open the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Rome Season last night with Julius Caesar.
Caesar was a charismatic and ambitious man who, once in a temporary position of power, flouted the rules and appointed himself a dictator for life.
His flagrant abuse of his office, riding roughshod over those who opposed him, ultimately, as we know, led to his brutal and bloody downfall. Donald Trump would do well to review the text.
This should be a thrilling opener, especially in the hands of director Angus Jackson who is at the helm of the entire Rome season.
But it’s not. Instead, it’s a good, solid piece that produces little surprise or demonstrates the flair which we know Jackson is capable of.
Andrew Woodall’s Caesar doesn’t command the centre stage the way he should. The swagger and ruthlessness are missing and he appears more as a harassed chief executive of a faceless corporation, constantly wiping his hands over his bald head with stress.
He plays Caesar as an ordinary man in an extraordinary position rather than a noted despot. This Caesar is sickly, under threat and paranoid and not the tyrant we used to seeing.
It is Mark Antony who grabs our attention from the moment the play opens with the bare-chested warrior wrestling a huge bull to the ground. Sad then that the scene is fleeting and lost in the semi-darkness, over before the audience has a chance to fully appreciate it.
The immensely watchable James Corrigan, who has been flexing his muscles at the RSC for the past year with physical roles in The Two Noble Kinsmen, The Merchant of Venice and The Seven Acts of Mercy, here gives a commanding performance as Julius Caesar’s golden boy, Mark Antony.
We’re so used to seeing Antony as a Roman jock that we forget just how devious and surprisingly astute he can be.
Seeing his master and best friend slaughtered he sets about, through subterfuge and clever speeches, in whipping up the rabble to revolt. Here’s a man who knows how to work a crowd.
Martin Hutson is engaging as chief conspirator Cassius, a passionate rebel, keen to restore some form of democracy with his friend, and fellow senator, Brutus, as leader.
But Alex Waldmann’s youthful Brutus fails to make an impact on stage. He just doesn’t come across as being capable of leading a town council much less a rebellion.
So much time is spent on the build-up to the assassination that Jackson doesn’t seem to have any ideas for the division which comes in the aftermath.
The play’s only real shock moment comes with the sudden dispatching of the young slave boy, Lucius (Samuel Littell making a fine RSC debut) and the entire audience collectively gasped at its brutality.
The production runs out of steam with indulgent and repetitive battle scenes which involve the ensemble running on and off in a chaotic and unnecessary manner. It must be great to play soldier on stage but it’s tiresome to watch.
Julius Caesar runs in repertoire in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre until September 9 and is screened live to cinemas around the world on April 26.
The Royal Shakespeare Company launches its 2017 Rome Season at Stratford-upon-Avon with a workmanlike Julius Caesar that lacks the big personalities to make it memorable.