DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Julius Caesar – York Theatre Royal

Reviewer: Margaret Hooper

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Diane Page

William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar revels in power struggles and domineering characters against a backdrop of Roman society’s socio-political hierarchies. The audience at York Theatre Royal is subsumed into this hierarchy as soon as the performance begins, being cajoled into celebrating Caesar’s triumph over Pompey. A sense of community is created as we are not sat in darkness and can see and hear each other. The play, which has been developed for The Globe Theatre in London, succeeds in retaining elements of a 17th-century style performance; we are bathed in ‘sunlight’ throughout the performance and are very much a part of the action.

This, however, is where the similarity ends. Directed by Diane Page, the casting of Julius Caesar immediately presents the audience with a new take on the canonical play. Not only are Brutus and Cassius played by women (Anna Crichlow and Charlotte Bate respectively), but their characters are women. This transforms the production into an important political statement which makes steps to normalise lesbian relationships and place women in positions of change-engendering power. These bold choices work to reignite Shakespeare’s text whose original scant portrayal of women wrote powerful political players such as Fulvia, Mark Anthony’s real wife, out of the action.

The simple staging of the piece throws a focus on the power and presence of Caesar in the city of Rome; a towering marble statue of the Emperor stands centre stage, on a raised plinth. Caesar’s presence in this manner dominates all conversations. He polices thoughts and acts as a thorn in the side of all movements. This is particularly effective as Cassius and Brutus plot Caesar’s death.

Speech is delivered with dedicated enunciation – every word is considered, nothing is lost. The effect of this is, however, mixed; the story is clear and well-delivered, but some of the magic leaves the stage and we are not afforded a chance to get lost in the language which, at times, is almost laboured.

At the start of the second act, the play comes into its own. The rivalry between Mark Anthony, excellently played by Samuel Oatley, and Brutus galvanises not only the characters but the actors playing them. A conflicted Brutus finds her power as the nuances and innate struggles of leadership and democracy dance about the stage. The force of Page’s gender changes and thoughtful casting by Becky Paris take hold; a young black woman has wrested power from an ageing white man – rarely is anything so poetic seen on stage.

Page’s take on Julius Caesar continues a legacy and a much-needed reviewing of Shakespeare’s canon which The Globe takes in its stride. The timely performance encourages us to look again at the liberties our own government takes, placing themselves far above the law. But for all its conscious decisions, it lacked the imagination one would hope for from a Globe production and didn’t quite reach the standards possible with such high calibre performers.

Runs until 11th June 2022, before touring nationwide.

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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