REVIEW – RSC’s Julius Caesar, Theatre Royal, Newcastle

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FRIENDS, Wearsiders, countrymen, lend me your ears.

I come to write a review about Caesar, and yes, to praise him.

In a gripping interpretation of Julius Caesar the Royal Shakespeare Company has cast the play in a warring state in Africa.

But while the continent should not automatically be associated with despots and dictators this decision works brilliantly to deliver a sense of urgency and realism as watchers are reminded of the horrors of Amin, Mugabe and Rwanda.

Written in 1599 the play sees Caesar returning triumphantly to Rome and as his subjects praise him, a band of senators begin to fear his power has grown too great.

With Caius Cassius as the main conspirator he convinces Marcus Brutus to join them and they succeed in murdering their leader.

But Mark Antony, a close friend of Caesar, turns the mob against them and eventually leads an army which defeats the conspirators.

Weaved throughout this story of political murder are dreams, prophecies and visions, all captured perfectly by the African soothsayer.

The play is carried along by strong performances from Brutus, played by Paterson Joseph, and Antony, played by Ray Fearon, who leave you believing their every word.

In particular Joseph’s performance of Brutus should get a special mention as he captures the contradictions in the character well – a man who claims to serve the greater good but in fact one who is self-righteous and flawed.

The length of the play, from the RSC’s Gregory Doran, also works in its favour with two and a quarter hours feeling just right.

There was also great attention to detail with the music as even when you enter the theatre there is a group of musicians playing African beats on djembes and guitars adding to the atmosphere.

This was the first time I had seen Caesar performed but having known the story for many years I was hoping that it would deliver a fresh interpretation.

And in certainly did, delivered with pace and passion, it should be a must-see for Shakespeare fans and those who are just looking for an enjoyable evening out.

– Tom White