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Posts Tagged ‘Joe Dixon’

Cicero gets nine lines in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar; here he gets a play in two parts, each of three acts, with a playing time of six hours. The RSC have given us a number of two-part epics in recent years. from Nicholas Nickleby through Canterbury Tales to Wolf Hall. Mike Poulton was responsible for the adaptation of the last two of these, as he is for this adaptation of Robert Harris’ Cicero Trilogy, a big slice of fascinating Roman history littered with contemporary parallels, and it’s brilliant.

Cicero may be the most significant Roman you don’t know much about. That’s because he was an orator and lawyer rather than an Emperor or military figure, but was considered the father of the republic and the go-to man for legal advice and rhetorical coaching, becoming a philosopher in later life. His life was extraordinarily well documented by his slave-turned-confidente & biographer Tiro. Though his papers were lost, they were known to Plutarch, who was the source for Shakespeare’s play, so Harris’ books and these plays have a solid foundation in fact, based on Plutarch.

When it starts, Rome is a republic, with democracy of a sort, two consuls elected annually by a senate made up of the great and the good of Rome, most rich patricians, but some self-made plebeians like Cicero. Cicero is a Consul and protector of the republic, but Julius Caesar is due back in triumph intent on turning Cicero’s precious republic into a dictatorship. Cicero is sent into exile, but is allowed to return before Caesar’s assassination, in which he doesn’t really play a part, though he does approve of the return of the republic, or so he thinks.

Next up is Mark Anthony, whose wife Fulvia is ‘the power behind the throne’ and he seems permanently pissed. Cicero is their biggest critic but he fails to take the Senate with him in his plan to deal with Mark Anthony, and ends up in exile once more, while Mark Anthony & Fulvia continue their life of excess and corruption. Cicero is approached by Julius Caesar’s chosen heir Octavian, who he takes a shine to and decides to help, but he too is more than meets the eye. and when he forms an alliance with Mark Anthony, Cicero is violently dispatched. Octavian will go on to become Augustus, the next dictator.

Like his other adaptations, this is rich in story and narrative and is a real theatrical feast. It’s a slow burn at first, but by the third act of the first part you’re in its grip, until its subject’s head is on a pole! In Anthony Ward’s design, the Swan has stairs behind, a pit below and a giant globe above, which provide a brilliantly flexible but evocative setting. Paul Engishby’s music, heavy on brass, is particularly good at accompanying the triumphant entries into Rome. This is the sort of production director Greg Doran does so well – lucid, well paced and often thrilling.

Cicero is a huge part and Richard McCabe is magnificent, a career high I’d say. I loved Joseph Kloska as diffident but loyal Tiro, whose journey takes him from slave to assistant to confidente to advisor and biographer. Peter de Jersey has great presence as Julius Caesar and Joe Dixon shines as both Catiline and Mark Anthony, two power hungry chancers, as does Oliver Johnstone as Cicero’s protege Rufus and Octavian and Eloise Secker as Clodia and Fulvia. A terrific ensemble of seventeen actors play all of the remaining roles.

It was a difficult trip to Stratford, where I almost got stranded in the snow, but it was a real theatrical banquet and I don’t regret the travails one bit. This is the sort of theatre you remember for years.

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Much has been made of the use of cutting edge technology in this production – ‘The ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY in collaboration with INTEL, in association with THE IMAGINARIUM STUDIOS’ – that I was concerned it would swamp Shakespeare’s play, but nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, the contrast between spectacle and quiet reflection brought something very fresh and unique.

It’s set inside the wreck of a giant ship’s hull, designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis. Prospero, Miranda and the shipwrecked royals and their staff are normal humans. Caliban is a Shrek-like monster, brilliantly realised by Joe Dixon. Ariel is both an onstage character and multiple digital projections using performance capture (think Gollum in Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes), also brilliantly realised by Mark Quartley, as are the seven spirits that he sometimes conjures up. The characterisation of Stephano and Trinculo by James Hayes and especially Simon Trinder are also superb, and their scenes with Caliban are amongst the best I’ve ever seen.

With giant projections on the back wall and the ship’s hull, it does create truly spectacular scenes, but only when they’re needed. Much of the time we spend with Prospero feels even more introspective, thoughtful and restrained than usual, and the verse shines through. At first I thought Simon Russell Beale’s characterisation was too gentle, but then you realise you’re hanging on to every word in a theatre where you couldn’t hear a pin drop (despite the presence of many school parties!).  In addition to the technological partners, the projections of Finn Ross, Simon Spencer’s superb lighting and Paul Englishby’s evocative music add much to the magical cocktail.

Who’d have thought a 400-year-old play and state-of-the-art technology could feel as if they belong together.

 

 

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