Monday, 30 November -0001

Theatre Review: 31 August

A stunning restoration of Caesar’s vitality, timelessness and power

Written by Steve Barfield


Being taught to generations of listless, presixth form school children and the subject of so many parodies has gained Julius Caesar the unfortunate reputation of being among the most tepidly uninspiring of Shakespeare's plays. The chief virtue of director Gregory Doran's gripping, politically thrilling, pan- African and post-colonial resetting of the play for the RSC is that it quickly makes us forget all such preconceptions and see the play afresh: a complex and urgent discussion on the nature of political power within a nation, civic duty, moral choices and the power of language to make politics happen.

The fine cast of leading British Black actors, dressed in a colourful range of modern and more traditional African costumes, give some striking yet carefully nuanced performances. The accents derived from East African varieties of English, help to bring out the gutsy vigour of Shakespeare's iambic pentameter and the omnipresent use of political rhetoric. Jeffery Kissoon's Caesar is a stately, charismatic, formidable statesman; it remains ambiguous whether he really wants the crown or merely to serve Republican ideals. Paterson Joseph's Brutus is both a splendidly noble, exemplar of civic responsibility and also winsomely childlike and naïve. Ray Fearon's powerful Mark Anthony impressively transforms from hungover party reveller to an impassioned, dangerous revenger and General. The other cast members are just as faultless and energetic in a production evoking Africa's scorching heat, musical sounds and bold colours. Doran avoids creating villains or heroes; our sympathies are finely balanced between the separate political players as each, in turn, appeal to sway us.

The thematic parallels to Africa and that continent's troubled politics so successfully evoked should not be taken too far: expanding Imperial Rome was no impoverished post-colonial African state and the conflict between the oligarchs of noble families and Caesar, seeking to be more than first among equals, is different from that between dictatorship and modern representative democracy, or the consequences of African tribalism. However, such provocative discussion shows an outstanding, seminal production that has restored Julius Caesar's vitality, timeliness and power.

Noel Coward Theatre, St Martin's Lane, London WC2 until 15 September then touring: 0844-482 5141,

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