Theatre: Julius Caesar at the Bradford Alhambra
Where and when: Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, 25th-29th September
Director: Gregory Doran
Cast: Ray Fearon, Paterson Joseph, Jeffery Kissoon, Cyril Nri
Rating: Easy 4/5
‘Constancy’ is what Brutus’ wife Portia screams for in almost trembling hysteria when Rome’s political world tumbles like the broken stage of the Coliseum behind them. She senses Brutus has become caught up in the struggle for political power that rages in Rome between Caesar and his senates and she is right; a rope of political threat is tightening around Caesar’s neck. Constancy is a theme which resounds as loudly as the street fiesta which greets you on entrance into the theatre in this fantastically innovative new Royal Shakespeare Company production which sets Shakespeare’s historic-tragedy in modern-day Africa – a transition that works so perfectly it makes you forget it is in fact a bold reworking.
With Caesar’s body drops tyranny, the countrymen of Rome believe; liberty and freedom are theirs once more. The people of Rome wash their hands in Caesar’s blood but the drizzle of blood on the capital is not so easily removed. Brutus, played by the brilliant Paterson Joseph (Green Wing, Peep Show), perfectly conveys a man at war with himself; persuaded into a position of power he becomes misled, corrupt and consumed with self-regard. In an evocative speech flooded with self-interest, Brutus convinces himself and his conspirators that Caesar’s assassination is integral to the happiness of Rome; it is less murder than sacrifice; they must ‘stand, strike, redress’, and hide their conspiracy in smiles and affability.
‘Shall Rome stand under one man’s awe?’ No: but in the power struggle that follows Caesar’s assassination democracy is shown to be a difficult feat. Mark Anthony, played completely brilliantly by Ray Fearon (Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, Coronation Street), swaggers into a contest for ruler-ship; a close associate of Caesar, Anthony reminds the people why they loved their leader, and questions the fickle nature of their honour. Blood drops and civil war ensues. Two men, two potential leaders fight for honour: Brutus is a thinker, a revised speaker; Mark Anthony a man of action who can rile the people with the force of emotion alone. But, ‘are good words better than bad strokes?’
What this production does perhaps better than any other is spotlight a central question which can sometimes be overlooked: is the collapse of society a result of the dictator’s inability to keep hold of power, or is it the constantly changing affections of the Romans that cause political instability. Swirled into a mob, the civilians’ ability to be swayed by men in assumed positions of power becomes dangerous to the state of the country.
This is a story of ambition, honour, remorse and the political fear that stalks a county at war. It is a timeless tale which resounds eerily with current political concern in countries all over the world. More frightening still is the natural way Shakespeare’s famous lines form into pigeon English and curl around deep African tones; you could almost be in the smoky midst of this demonic civil war, guns blazing, rendering how ‘the evil that men do lives after them’.
The question I keep being asked is this: ‘is it worth going to Bradford for?’ My answer every time is yes. Only on until Saturday, you have to catch any touring RSC production whilst you can. Jump on a train, jump on a bike, jump on a horse; I don’t care how you get there – just get there.
Tickets for Young People aged 16-25 are available for £5 if booked in advance
Trains to Bradford from Leeds take about 20 minutes and run every half an hour from Leeds Station
Words: Lucy Holden