Review – Julius Caesar, Courtyard Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company

Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar is a Shakespeare text rich with themes relevant to almost any age. In the 1930s it was a call to arms against tyranny; in the 1960s it was a cautionary tale about the wider impact of the actions of great men; today it might query the justifiability of terrorist acts or examine the corruptibility of power.

It is a potent text which can be moulded to a director’s message to intensely powerful effect. What doesn’t work with this play is a production which just ticks the boxes, a production which just ambles along without really taking a stand about what it is about, a production which treats the play as a character drama rather than a political one, a production which fails to sculpt relevance out of the text.

Unfortunately that is exactly what Lucy Bailey gives us in this production which, despite nice performances, never really elevates itself above the workaday.

Beyond the classic Bailey penchant for gore (fans will be pleased to hear that decapitated heads are tossed and screaming traitors are crucified aplenty) there isn’t even a consistent aesthetic to this production. There are attempts to add scale to this, the play which above any other demands scale, through the use of projected crowd scenes, but this doesn’t work at all and only serves to make the live action on stage seem petty and unreal.

There are some nice scenes, most notably Cassius and Brutus’ confrontation, but even here opportunities to make decisions are funked.

Is Cassius as pathetic and needy as he seems, in which case was his motive of the assassination and admiration of Brutus at the start more genuine than it seemed? Or is his vulnerability and need for approval put on, in which case is he still playing Brutus as we go into the final battle? Does Brutus really forgive Cassius’ weaknesses or is he simply ensuring that his alliance does not collapse on the eve of battle? Is Cassius’ suicide a genuine misunderstanding or wilful self delusion?

The text doesn’t tell us the answer to these questions and a director is within her rights, indeed required, to make these decisions on behalf of her production.

There’s a lot to like in this production, but there is a void at its centre, which no amount of tossing prop heads around will fill.