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Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Woodall’

This play teaches us three lessons that still hold true. The first is that people will quickly follow anyone who pushes the right buttons – setting out their belief, engaging emotionally and laying out the supporting facts (or lies, as appears to be the case today) – and switch allegiance just a quickly. Secondly, when power goes to their head, or they derail for other reasons, leaders are dealt with by their own (the Tories dealt with Thatcher before the electorate had a chance, and are circling May as I write – and hopefully the same is happening in Washington!). The third is that you may think you’ve got rid of a tyrant or a tyranny, but another one, even worse, may come along soon – think Arab Spring. Shakespeare is often timeless.

The people willingly follow the charismatic orator Caesar, but the conspirators assassinate him to protect the republic and prevent permanent autocracy. Mark Anthony then woos the people with his rhetoric, joins forces with Octavius, and before you know it you’re back where you were before you despatched the last dictator, only this one seems worse.

It’s a relatively conventional, classical production, devoid of modern references and gimmicks, so its all about the verse and the performances. I didn’t engage with the first half, up to the point of the assassination, as well as I did with the second, the aftermath, political turmoil and battles, but that’s as much to do with the play as the production. This part of the story is much more thrilling, though it’s difficult to do war and death at close quarters with twenty or thirty people. In this production, though, when it comes to the murder of the boy Lucius, the audience were traumatised by its realism.

There are two cracking performances at the centre of this production – Martin Hutson’s Cassius and Alex Waldmann’s Brutus, and their combined passion creates a powerhouse combination. Andrew Woodall’s Caesar, James Corrigan’s Mark Anthony and Jon Tarcy as Octavius also impress. This fine ensemble has been very watchable in all four plays.

I’ve enjoyed the Romans season, particularly seeing them over an eight-week period, albeit in the wrong order. Adding the contemporary Imperium plays in Stratford, covering the same period, turned it into a real theatrical feast. This is what the RSC is for.

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With this third play (in the order I’m seeing them), the RSC’s Romans season comes alive. In my view, that’s down to a period staging, an excellent design and a set of fine performances. Not a mobile phone in sight! My luck with this play continues.

For someone who’s only directed a handful of Shakespeare plays, I thought Iqbal Khan’s staging was masterly. He gets so much right – the passionate relationship at it’s core, the ruthless ambition of Octavius, the dignity of the Egyptian women and the essence of the conflicts. After being critical of Robert Innes Hopkins designs for Coriolanus and Titus Andronicus, here he delivers a beautiful, classical setting with wonderful costumes. There’s even a superb score by favourite Laura Mvula.

I’ve seen some great pairings in the titular roles – Anthony Hopkins & Judi Dench, Alan Rickman & Helen Mirren, Patrick Stewart & Harriet Walter, Paul Sheeley & Mark Rylance (!) – and Anthony Byrne & Josette Simon are a match for any of them; intelligent, passionate, nuanced performances. They have a fine supporting cast, many of whom have been in the other plays. In particular, Andrew Woodall is exceptional as Enobarbus and Ben Allen’s characterisation of Octavius is outstanding.

In one of those connections I’m fond of, this play begins shortly after the end of the Imperium plays (which I saw nine days before in Stratford), and though there’s 400 years between their authorship, it almost feels like a sequel.

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