In a year when politics is in chaos it seems only fitting that the RSC should launch a season exploring the disintegration of the Roman Empire. Angus Jackson’s production of Julius Caesar makes us view it as a historical event through the setting and costumes aligning themselves with the generally accepted and authentic tradition. Whereas, they could have simply adapted the play to fit the 21st century, their decision not to, makes us, as the audience, work harder to find the parallelisms to our own society. A clear, striking and relevant resonance emerges, so much so that it is unsettling to think that as a civilisation we haven’t managed to progress on from the cyclic pattern of overreaching and ambitious individuals and political divisions that cause bloodshed, ideological indoctrination, creates riots and rebellions and in this case incites the assassination of a leader.
Caesar, the unrelenting, self-assertive dictator figure is one that we are unfortunately too familiar with. Although I found Woodall’s performance of Caesar too tame a style for me, his ability to translate Caesar’s ambitious nature, his want to obtain absolute power over Rome is brilliantly subtle, creating more of a disquieting, manipulative than a forceful political figure. We could easily replace Julius Caesar with the orange, fake tanned, orang-utan we now call our president.
With his proposed travel ban, blatant discrimination and Islamophobic behaviour and his ‘America first’ policy, which serves no-one but himself, it’s worryingly clear that he seems to be a reincarnation and he is clearly following the early stages and steps of other autocratic dictators like Mussolini, Hitler and Caesar who all brought untold destruction and chaos to their realms. Knowing all this I think that the timing of this production is brilliant. Perhaps seeing such worrying events in front of our very own eyes might help the world wake up and realise that we are in need of change within worldwide politics, not just within Americas.
However, the star of the show (for me at least, you’re welcome to disagree) was James Corrigan who played Mark Antony. His talent as an actor elevated his performance above the rest, making his character extremely convincing. Through him we are able to see the ambiguities, difficulties and complexities of a military leader who becomes a cannier political operator than anyone else. His skilled rhetoric, with his long speeches were effortlessly delivered by Corrigan who spoke clearly with tone and emphasis on key aspects. As a result he captivated both the actors and audience – it was almost as if you could hear a pin drop in the auditorium. I was following him word-for-word.