Sunday, 5 October 2014

Julius Caesar - Shakespeare's Globe

I went to see the new production of 'Julius Caesar' at Shakespeare's Globe the other evening and was stunned. It's a great production - yes - but it was the play that stunned, the language and poetry, the plot and storytelling and the sheer artistry of the thing. The play's the thing … I mean, wow!

I know the start of the 'friends, Romans, countymen' speech and some of the other famous lines but I've never seen the play or read the text so it was marvellous to hear those lines of poetry spoken aloud for the first time and wonder how on earth Mr Shakespeare manages to manipulate my emotions with his words. It really was quite stunning and I was almost in tears a few times with the beauty of it several times. It might be 400 years old but it's new to me. And I want more.

It's not so much about Julius Caesar as it is about Marcus Brutus. It's his tragedy really. Julius comes, he sees and he conquers and then he gets knifed lots of times. But why? What's it all about? And for that, you need to know your Plutarch, like Shakespeare did. Brutus's family had a long history of opposing kings and tyrants and supporting the republic and that's the background to the play. A man conflicted with his own tradition, his belief and the reality of politics happening in front of him. The play brings this out very clearly and so does this production.

Brutus is drawn into the conspiracy to get rid of Caesar by playing to his fears that Caesar will become king whereas the other conspirators clearly have less lofty reasons. The first half takes us from Caesar's triumphant return to Rome to the Ides of march and his energetic multiple stabbing. Mark Anthony whips up the people of Rome to seek revenge for Caesar's slaying through a superb speech in which he denigrates himself and his oratory compared to the noble Brutus. Listening to that speech ('Friends, Romans, countrymen…') for the first time in whole was astonishing - a masterclass in speech writing and political speechwriting at that. And it was delivered superbly.

The play continues after a break with the fall-out from the deed with danger in the city and civil war ranging in the country. The conspirators versus the newly formed triumvirate of Mark Anthong, Octavius Caesar and Lepidus (and we see Lepidus deposed in 'Anthony & Cleopatra'). A series of fast-moving events leads to Brutus committing suicide by running onto his sword and his enemies declaring him the most noble of Romans. We see the ghost of Caesar visiting Brutus one night and imagine the gasps from the audience when we see that the servant who holds Brutus's sword for him to run onto is the same actor who plays Caesar. Oo-er!

I was blown away by this play and the production and would single out Tom McKay as Brutus and Luke Thompson as Mark Anthony for special praise, if only because they had the best speeches and delivered them perfectly. I liked the Jacobean costumes (even when wrapped around with mini-togas), especially the big boots most of them wore (I want boots like that). Oddly, I didn't take to Octavius Caesar at all and didn't take to him in 'Anthony & Cleopatra' either - too up himself for my taste.

I left the theatre with a programme and with the Penguin edition of the text. I've never read it before but I will now, I want to savour those words on my tongue. Well done on a most fabulous play, Will, and well done to all at the Globe for a great production!

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