Jeffery Kissoon (Julius Caesar), Mark Theodore (Metellus Cimber), Chinna Wodu (Cinna, The Conspirator), Ricky Fearon (Cicero) [image by Kwame Lestrade]
Shakespeare’s timeless tale of greed, ambition and corruption takes to the London stage in an explosion of raw energy and outstanding acting. By transporting ancient Rome to modern day East Africa director Gregory Doran has created a play that throbs with allusions to current world events. In this turbulent Republic the autocratic rule of Julius Caesar is scrutinised by a senate who fear their leader harbours plans to instate a monarchy. Under the seditious influence of his brother Cassius, praetor Brutus becomes embroiled in a murderous plot to overthrow Caesar and govern Rome on his own terms. What Brutus fails to anticipate is how a society so conditioned to dictatorship will respond to a new order being established. As riots abound in the capital and Mark Anthony organises a revolt against Rome’s new leader bloody chaos ensues, begging the question who is really fit to rule?
The Royal Shakespeare Company’s decision to displace a work so identified with an ancient European civilisation onto a modern African setting was always going to be a risk. How would Julius Caesar translate into an East African accent and Saharan landscape? The answer: phenomenally! With such a history of civil conflict and imperialist dictatorship this setting perfectly encapsulates the urgency and dissatisfaction so central to the play. The cast’s use of the East African accent initially filled me with consternation but as Shakespeare’s rhetoric spilled forth in soft elongated vowels and rhotic pronunciation the imagery was captured magnificently.
This production not only presents a compelling image of East Africa in 2012; it is also a testament to Shakespeare’s genius. His understanding of human nature and command of language is truly unrivalled in its ability to transcend time, culture and location. An absolute triumph of a tragedy.”
Performances are superlative. Jeffery Kissoon is amazing as Caesar; portraying a noble yet easily flattered leader. His ardent supporter Mark Anthony is played with considerable aplomb by Ray Fearon whose quavering tones during the famous ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ speech betray his extensive work as a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. The cast give a powerfully physical performance as they stalk around the grey stone blocks which make up Michael Vale’s spectacular amphitheatre set. The arresting scenery locates the audience both in ancient Rome and in a dusty war torn plane admirably. The imposing statue of a saluting Caesar ringed by barbed wire is an especially prominent allusion to history’s recent dictatorships.
The attention to detail is fantastic. A bustling and exotic landscape is created as a skilled East African band strum koras and an undulating, paint-slathered soothsayer delivers his doom laden prophecies. With Paterson Joseph in the role of a tormented Brutus we see the corrupting effect of power and the awesomeness of responsibility as he beats his chest and pledges his undying commitment to Rome. This production not only presents a compelling image of East Africa in 2012; it is also a testament to Shakespeare’s genius. His understanding of human nature and command of language is truly unrivalled in its ability to transcend time, culture and location. An absolute triumph of a tragedy.
Paterson Joseph (Brutus) and Adjoa Andoh (Portia) [image by Kwame Lestrade]
Julius Caesar is showing at the Noël Coward Theatre until September 15, 2012
Book tickets here
Afridiziak Theatre News interview with Ray Fearon, RSC’s, Julius Caesar
Afridiziak Theatre News interview with Adjoa Andoh