Five Stars out of Five
The last century saw its fair share of the rises and falls of African dictators. How fitting, therefore, it seems for the Royal Shakespeare Company to set their latest production of Julius Caesar in modern East Africa.
I went to see Gregory Doran’s fresh new interpretation at The Lowry last week and afterwards I caught up with Adjoa Andoh, who plays Brutus’ (Paterson Joseph) wife Porcia in the play.
The setting of the play could not have been more perfect to rouse an audiences’ attention to a play that is, in my opinion, not performed often enough. Pre-curtain, the auditorium is filled with the sights and sounds of an African band drumming and singing as the witch-doctoresque soothsayer proudly introduced himself through striking dance. This was merely a taster of the new vibrancy magnificently breathed into the play. The all-black cast, along with flawless African accents gave the words a new sort of rhythm and pace. Andoh tells me she knows of people who hated Julius Caesar at school (herself included) but after seeing this production, finally understood and liked it. Roused is right.
Whilst renovating the play entirely, the piece does not overlook the original Roman context. Michael Vale’s giant stone steps was somewhat reminiscent of Ancient Rome, but with its rusty metal wire structure occasionally peeping through, it was not a million miles away from modern Africa either. The conspirators donned swish black togas for he infamous murder scene, bringing the classic historical image sleekly into it’s modern context.
On top of this, the cast of Julius Caesar are all second to none. Paterson Joseph was wonderful as Brutus and handled it with humor, sensitivity and depth. Andoh tells me of her respect and fondness for Joseph, which certainly came across in their scene together, where Porcia tries to get Brutus to share what it is he has been keeping from her. Andoh goes on to tell me more about Porcia’s character:
“Porcia is the daughter of Cato, the stoic philosopher and politician, who was driven to suicide due to his severe antagonism towards Caesar’s dictatorship. When we see her with Brutus we can see they have an respectful relationship where they can talk about politics as equals,” she says.
This certainly came across in Andoh’s portrayal, Porcia was all-woman: sexy, strong and courageous. Ray Fearon’s Mark Anthony was also stunning and whose ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ speech was excited, passionate and raw. A performance not to be missed.
Andoh finishes by telling me about the cast’s personal connection to the play. All the cast are from African or West Indian roots so all have parents or grandparents who have experienced political unrest. She says:
‘Theres an energy that comes from our history we put back into the play’
This energy Andoh speaks of certainly shines through. If this is new direction for the RSC now that Doran is artistic director, then I say keep on going. If you can, you must see Julius Caesar!
Julius Caesar ran at The Lowry Theatre from the 2nd to the 6th October.