Thursday, 25 June 2009

Julius Caesar (RSC, The Courtyard, Stratford-upon-Avon)

Lucy Bailey has directed bloodbaths at the Globe before, I think if this production had been performed in the open air it would have been a lot better- obviously the actors would have to learn to shout for it to be outside, though really they should have learned this before they came a-mumbling onstage at The Courtyard.
Going down to Stratford for the night to see The RSC's production of Julius Caesar was luckily not the only thing on our agenda, so the fact that the play was not great did not ruin our road trip. We went to Warwick for ice cream and charity shops, then to Charlecote Park for a country house and deer-spotting, finally we got to our thirty quid travel lodge (tres cheap though almost deathly in the heat with windows that open an inch) out for a nice dinner and then to the theatre. The next day we went to Broadway and Chipping-Camden to see ye olde Cotswald villages and had the most fabulous lunch we'd had for years sitting in the sun outside Russell's and eating two courses for £12; minute steak and celariac with rocket and parmesan salad followed by treacle tart and ice cream- I could spend a whole flipping blog on how wonderful the lunch was and how nice the boys who worked there were, but I'm supposed to be reviewing a play. We also stopped at farm shops on the way home and listened to Just William -the previous day we'd prepared ourselves for Shakespeare with William and the Lost Tourist ("What's the Avon?") and William Takes the Stage ("The flesh and hairys...").
So I've raved on this blog before about how the Royal Shakespeare Company trains in a way that even if you don't know the play it is instantly accessible, it isn't a mish-mash of acting styles to confuse like American film-versions of Shakey, everyone acts the same way, to the same rhythm etc. Well, it seems the entire company of last summer's Hamlet, Love Labour's Lost and A Midsummer Night's Dream are filming David Tennant's Hamlet for BBC2 to be shown at Christmas so this summer's company are as my sister put it "the dregs of the RSC" (or as my dad put it: "Anyone want to be in a play?" "Aye, I'll dae it, sae lang as I can be back at the chip shop for my night shift"). I still want to believe that it was because I didn't know it that I didn't enjoy it.
I was willing to look past the horrible 3D crowd projections and the strange choice of 1960s-Afternoon-Play music that intruded on every scene, and I didn't mind that some of the costumes were crap (Dad wondered why they were all dressed like Abba) I was convinced that the RSC would be able to act it and that was all I was interested in, a good story.
But is it a good story? Did Shakespeare even write it we wondered? He always writes such good parts for women, Caesar's wife was played by Noma Dumezweni who had played Titania so well last year in Midsummer- I was relieved to see her and thought "ho ho, it will be good now she's in it..." She had about two lines and was never seen again! Same with Portia, I was suddenly interested, thought with her we'd see another side to Brutus, but she died off stage after one scene and was only seen again as a ghost!! Had all of Shakespeare's boy-actors grown up when he wrote this play!? Why were there no women in it!?
It was a really hot day, so this affected the audience, hayfever and fatigue- I wondered if it was just that we'd done so much in the sun that day that I was tired and that was why in the first half hour of the play I couldn't keep my eyes open- anyway, the audience seemed to wait for dramatic pauses to cough loudly over the next lines so I didn't know what the fuck was going on. Back to the company though; it didn't help that they all seemed to be from a school of mumbling whisperers. Were they tired from the heat? Or were they just shit?
I felt like a lot of the time they were forgetting their lines! There were too many "dramatic pauses." There were only a couple of people who could really project and convey the frigging meaning of their lines, it wasn't that I was tired, suddenly someone new is speaking and I'm listening- I'm not drifting off.
The bloke who played Mark Anthony managed to make the "Friends, Romans, Countrymen..." speech boring and utterly undramatic, he was creepy and slimy, is he supposed to be? There was no Fool! (another reason we're not sure Shakespeare wrote it) Though the actor playing Caesar cracked a few jokes he was mainly creepy and slimy- was he supposed to be?! I thought he was supposed to be charismatic and god-like!! Only Robin Hood's Sam Troughton playing the lead was any good, though really I thought Brutus was supposed to be complex, he seemed to be a total coward (so...Much but with more lines) and was good with the worried-face. I still had trouble hearing him though, was he adjusting how he spoke to soft spoken Cassius' level? Project!! Perhaps they thought Sam Troughton would carry their show, we got Doctor Who last year, why not get someone from Robin Hood this year? For a start, I really don't think Much is a big enough star to attract huge audiences and secondly everyone in Tennant's plays last year were equally as good as him, Julius Caesar is much more a company play, you need a good company.
This production got good reviews. And three stars from the Guardian which I thought was generous. The fighting scenes were good (obviously the director's forte) and Caesar's murder- the scenes where women were allowed to act were good too, but I found the actors playing Cassius and Mark Anthony just bla, and unfortunately they were two very important parts.

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