The Daily Telegraph

Shakespear­e’s Rome as an MGM spectacula­r

- By Dominic Cavendish

Theatre Julius Caesar/ Antony and Cleopatra Royal Shakespear­e Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Icome neither to bury nor to praise the opening offerings in the RSC’s ambitious “Rome” season but mainly to express dismayed incredulit­y. The overarchin­g aim is to revive Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra now, followed by Titus Andronicus and Coriolanus (all four in the Stratford main house), top that off with a page-to-stage adaptation of Robert Harris’s “Cicero” trilogy, and throw in talks galore along the way.

On paper, hunky. But in practice, we need far greater steers from season director Angus Jackson as to the pressing intellectu­al rationale behind this epic (with a capital E) undertakin­g.

Both his production of Julius Caesar and Iqbal Khan’s take on Antony and Cleopatra trade on designs by Robert Innes Hopkins that drape the action in a very Hollywood notion of historical authentici­ty: togas, gleaming swords, rippling muscles, imposing colonnades.

Rather like the tragedies themselves, the overriding sense is of colossal amounts of effort being expended to dwindling avail, even of plans going awry. Because this convention­ality of approach creates a distancing effect. You can draw parallels, if you’re minded to, with the modern day, but there’s so little insistence you do so that it’s as if the RSC is turning its back on the daunting political upheavals of our age: the return of autocracy, the chaotic aftermath of civil uprisings.

We don’t need the flashily contempora­ry but there must lie a third way which makes us feel these works’ urgent questions about power: who has it, how it’s obtained and maintained, how abused, how lost.

Julius Caesar serves well enough for interested parties, though a funny thing happened on the way to the casting auditions. James Corrigan is at once rugged and wily as Mark Antony, playing Rome like a fiddle until it burns with desire for revenge against the conspirato­rs, and Martin Hutson is matchingly fine, febrile and rather ferrety, as Cassius. But Alex Waldmann seems far too much like a boy thrust into a man’s role as Brutus, insufficie­ntly virile, you feel, to plunge his knife into Andrew Woodall’s aquiline Caesar.

Would that Khan had cast Corrigan as Antony in Shakespear­e’s quasi sequel. Instead, Antony Byrne is passing fine in a lusty-voiced, rather forgettabl­e RSC way but altogether eclipsed by Josette Simon’s capricious Egyptian queen, whose vocal eccentrici­ties tower over the evening like the pyramids at Giza. She briefly strips, full-frontal fashion, near her asp-inflicted end, before re-robing into something yet more imposing. A fitting emblem, I’d say, of two production­s that are all dressed up, with nowhere massively exciting to go.

 ??  ?? Josette Simon as the capricious Egyptian queen in Antony and Cleopatra
Josette Simon as the capricious Egyptian queen in Antony and Cleopatra

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