FringeReview UK 2022
Directed by Diane Page (Assistant Director Indiiana Lown-Collin), Designer Khadja Raza.
Composer Simon Slater. Choreographer Asha Jennings-Grant. Community Producer Ella James. Dramaturg Jesse Houghton-Shaw
Movement Director Associate Glynn MacDonald, Fight Directors Rachel Bown-Williams, Ruth Cooper-Brown of Rc-Annie Ltd.
Head of Voice Tess Dignan. Globe Associate Text Christine Schmidle.
Costumer Supervisor Hattie Barsby, Costume Assistant Holly Hughes, Costume Breakdown Lucy Griffiths, Honor Parker, Costume Makers/Tailoring Adrian Gwillym, Brenda Palmer, Claire Thornton), Head of Props Emma Hughes, Head of Wigs and Make-Up Pam Humpage (Deputy Lottie Bull, Assistant Ella Baumann). Head of Stage Bryan Paterson (Deputy Spike Morton), Head of Wardrobe Emma Seychell (Deputy Emma Lucy-Hughes). Tiring House Max Rodriguez Thorp. Wardrobe Assistants Stella Mansfield, Wardrobe Deputy Alisa Vaseghi. Wardrobe Tech Imogen Rhodes, Venue Technicians Jack Cray, Charlotte Hurford.
Casting Becky Paris, Production Manager David McEvoy, Rehearsal assistant/Stage Manager Benedict Jones, Stage Managers David McEvoy, Hattie Wheeler, Company Manager Marion Marrs and DCM Kristy Bloxham, Stage Management Placements George Watton, Samantha Wilson, Producer Conrad Lynch. Cover and Production Photography Kate Bones.
Prop Maker Melanie Jane Brookes, Scenic Artists Emily Carne, Mary Macken Allen.
Till September 10th. And touring at intervals July 19th-September 17th .
Go as a groundling: you’ll be in the thick of it. Like two other Shakespeare Roman plays, you’re part of the mob to be inflamed and overthrow the capitol, courtesy of mercurial Omar Bynon. Sounds familiar recently.
This Globe Julius Caesar is tour-designed with a compact eight-pack cast where Khadja Raza’s set features a purple carpet-strip running down stage-centre where Pompey’s bust stamps its core, till it’s taken down like Saddam’s statue. With the Globe’s marble-painted pillars and Roman visage, and variously modern dress from dictator garb to 1960s suits, nothing else is needed. Except imaginary forces.
There’s many touches to admire in Diane Page’s direction. Fittingly it’s lean and hungry elsewhere too, sparse with a lute song and drumming improvs composed by Simon Slater.
The premise is terrific, not simply gender-fluidity we take for granted. Page reinvokes Mark Antony’s first wife Fulvia – she it was who created the spectacle of her first husband’s butchered body and her speech over it inflamed the crowd: Mark Antony took her hint for himself. Fulvia was at times more or less Consul and coins were struck of her, not her husband.
Transposing this to Anna Crichlow’s Brutus and Charlotte Bate’s Cassius should be tonally right too. Not just in the tradition of the all-women Clean Break Donmar production of 2012-13, with Harriet Walter’s memorable Brutus, or the 2018 Bridge with Michelle Fairley’s magnificent Cassius pushing Ben Whishaw’s Brutus over his caffe latte. As Dickon Tyrell’s Caesar pronounces: ‘She thinks too much. Such a one is dangerous.’
But here more palpably than before, Cassius feels too much, and surely that’s the point. The erotic power Brutus holds over her gets framed in the run of trigger-flinches, knife-pulling and desperate self-slaying threats again more naked than ever. Even in a rather gangster-ish group of conspirators, Bate stands out as volatile, with a pitch of enunciation most suited to a more intimate acoustic.
The point here is Brutus doesn’t react at all to Cassius’ intimations of an embrace; indeed Brutus unusually refuses to touch Cassius till she’s dead. Only then can she be safely tender. Crichlow’s Brutus doesn’t know how to express feeling: even with Cash Holland’s Portia. One senses a sexually frozen being, desperate not to react.
Whilst Tyrell – who also appeared in the decent 2013 Globe Julius Caesar – can suddenly lose it in a psychotic eruption, over Bynon’s Decius (watch him shudder), he’s as ever the North Star, and though magnetic with music for the iron-voiced, isn’t the play’s pull.
This falls to Brutus: we have to feel her agon, her doubts over her own as well as others’ motives, and ultimately whether Rome needs Caesar’s death. Here Crichlow can’t react vocally but keeps an even tenor, neither accelerating nor pausing; nor always vocally clear. It means Bate can’t bounce off as much as she needs to, and the first scenes between them drag.
Lack of vocal clarity affects several cast members; director, dramaturg Jesse Houghton-Shaw and Globe head of voice Tess Dignan should nurture less seasoned performers more than is apparent here. When you think of Ann Ogbomo’s towering (in all senses) Goneril playing concurrently, you wonder at a difference between fully resident productions and this one, limbered for tour.
Just as certainly though, these actors promise much; the less-seasoned deserve praise for a sinewy baptism, more care and development from the team.
Things improve considerably in the second half, when armoured in khaki identity, there’s more dispatch between them before Philippi: Crichlow still necessarily aloof but more animated, both ramped with adrenalin and indeed in Bate’s next self-slaying offer, baring herself. Again it’s an erotic act and again you sense Page brimming with vivid moments and rationales, which catch light here more than before.
That might be down to other cast-members. Jack Myers’ watchful, serpentine Casca is a delight. You sense the detail in his smiling menace and quick dispatch; you see it’ll be him who strikes the first blow. Every note’s clear, and as a curiously rougher Octavius, he glowers with hunched muscle.
Bynon’s cobbler, Soothsayer and ultimately Decius lights up as if he’s littered under Mercury, laddishly rabble-rousing, hooded and mumbling maledictions, or finally smooth and tricksy as Decius, poisoned-tongued with silver, re-interpreting a dream in a trice.
Samuel Oatley’s strangely plebian Mark Antony though plays the crowd like a dangerous populist. Back-stopped with glottal he smooches cajoles and strides across the stage. Down amongst the groundlings glad-handing the fortunate he radiates sophistry, pacing and placing his notes exactly. Tour de force majeure, you can see the capitol fall. No need though, he’s on the side of the new imperium to be. For the moment.
Just one false note – and that’s the text editor having Oatley say: ‘And, sure, she is an honourable man.’ Even Oatley nearly stumbles over it. The Globe’s cutting edge on gender-fluidity and it’s easy to replace ‘she is’ with ‘they are’ or simply ‘And, Brutus is an honourable man’ which preserves the iamb.
Amie Francis enjoys just one named role, as Calpurnia, with Tyrrell’s Caesar. She conveys a sense of being perpetually overborne, vocally and physically. You feel she’s underused.
As is Holland who makes a nervy Cinna: the scene’s a nasty one – indeed the fight-scenes (Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown again) are excellent. As Portia, Holland finds more pathos than majesty as Cicero’s daughter; her reported suicide doesn’t tell at all: the couple haven’t struck sparks and necessary cuts reduce her role and vocal opportunities, where she might have reacted with urgency and comedy towards Myers in his role as Brutus’ boy Lucius. As it is she’s unfairly dwelling in the suburbs of our pleasure, as we never hear that line either.
If you’re a habitual groundling, go before this production vanishes back on tour. If paying top-price Globe seats when you might catch this for a similar price in say Brighton’s Open Air Theatre, you might feel short-changed by a production that still has much to say, but hasn’t yet gone the distance.
And that’s not just because, in keeping with some Globe productions this year, the end’s sawn off, indeed halving Brutus’ final couplet: for no reason than some modish twitch. The Globe’s finest productions so far this year – Much Ado and King Lear – give us the closures we’re meant to lend our ears to. Luckily we’ve had next-year revivals, and there’s promise here for another.