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Julius Caesar is a play that cries out for use of the standing crowd in Shakespeare’s Globe, but Dominic Dromgoole’s dynamic production takes it further. His staging spills out from the circular auditorium itself and into the foyer, with spectators making their way in through exotic Lupercalia festivities.
The merrymaking is febrile, wild. By the time the play starts, the mood is set: this is a volatile city on the brink, the people a potent mass to be whipped up, damped down and cannily handled. Caesar will do it with show, Brutus with sincerity, Mark Antony with an astute common touch and shrewd instinct for exploiting latent hostilities. He would handle social media well.
Dromgoole’s confident use of the audience and the space emphasises Shakespeare’s brilliant dissection of politics in action. And the irony of the power struggle: this is a Rome in which leaders repeatedly invoke the importance of the citizens, while wrestling for control. There’s a lovely moment when George Irving’s suave Caesar glides through the spectators and hands money to one man – making sure that everyone can see the gesture. Before Brutus convinces the crowd that assassination is morally justified, we see him bringing his famed rhetoric to bear on his own conscience. Before Mark Antony whips up the crowd, we see him vow secretly to do so.
Dromgoole’s staging is dressed in Elizabethan costumes, with added togas for the Capitol, but the effect, ironically, is to emphasise the play’s timeless insights.
It’s fleet, urgent, exciting and dangerous. There are losses though: in the hurly-burly some subtleties and depths of this great play are lost. The early plotting between Brutus and Cassius feels hurried and shouted, the great scene when Brutus, caught between action and inaction, agonises privately, doesn’t quite hit home.
But the late quarrel between Tom McKay’s pale, troubled Brutus and Anthony Howell’s fiery Cassius is genuinely moving, carving the difference between these more sincere conspirators and Luke Thompson’s cynical, charming and ambitious Antony. There are lovely performances from Christopher Logan as a camp, snippy Casca and Catherine Bailey as Portia. And Dromgoole’s expert embrace of the crowd feels all too timely in a world beset by revolutions and civil wars.