Julius Caesar / Antony and Cleopatra

Posted by Laurence Green

Laurence Green enjoys a hugely impressive production of Julius Caesar, the timeless Shakespeare classic that continues to define political backstabbing.

Julius Caesar

A powerful dissection of tyranny in the RSC's production of Julius Caesar makes it the gripping highlight of a Roman double bill, which also features Antony and Cleopatra (Barbican Theatre following a transfer from Stratford).

Caesar returns from war an all-conquering hero but mutiny is rumbling through the corridors of power. Although Brutus loves Caesar, he is persuaded to kill him for the greater good, and, like all conspirators, loses control of the consequence.

Director Angus Jackson firmly steers the thrilling action of the timeless story that continues to define political backstabbing, with spin and betrayal turning to violence. Indeed Jackson ushers us into a Rome that for all its imposing marble columns is clearly filled with inner turbulence.

Alex Waldmann portrays Brutus as a troubled neurotic who conceals his uncertainty by making a series of wrong-headed decisions. James Corrigan's Mark Antony is a calculating cynic who tears up Caesar's fake will once it has done its work. Andrew Woodall, on the other hand, reveals Caesar's personal failings, while creating a figure of overwhelming vanity and power. The best performance, however, comes from Martin Hutson, whose unforgettable Cassius dominates the play. Snubbed by Caesar and trusting implicitly in Brutus, he is a man who combines political idealism with tactical shrewdness.

In short, then, a deeply impressive production whose three-hour length seems to fly by. Certainly a play for our troubled times.

The same praise, I'm afraid, cannot be heaped on Antony and Cleopatra, which is staged in chronological order after Julius Caesar following Caesar's assassination. Mark Antony has reached the heights of power. But he has neglected his empire for a life of decadent seduction with his mistress Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. Torn between love and duty, Antony's military brilliance deserts him and his passion leads the lovers to a tragic end.

Director Iqbal Khan has made some strange decisions in this production. Why, for instance, is the crucial sea battle, in which Antony abandons his post to chase after Cleopatra played out with oversized model boats being pushed around the stage like floor-sweepers, an effect that is more comical than strategic?   

But the main flaw of the production if Antony Byrne's lacklustre Antony, portraying the general torn between the dutiful soldier and the lovelorn man with a bloke-ish bravado that makes it difficult to empathise with. 

However, there is compensation in the form of Josette Simon's magnetic portrayal of Cleopatra, as a queen who is as fickle as she is sensual refusing to become a subservient and conquered vassal. Good support is given by Ben Allen's petulant and dictatorial Caesar. 

Credit should also be given to designer Robert Innes Hopkins for his suitable regal set that transports the audience seamlessly between Egypt - red and gold adorn the Alexandran palace, evoking a lavish seat of power and luxury  - and the bathhouse of Rome.

Julius Caesar / Antony and Cleopatra

Runs until Saturday 20 January 2018 at Barbican Theatre.

Box office: 0845 120 7511


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