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I’d already booked for Julius Caesar at the Globe before they announced they were going to put on a performance ‘inside’ in the new candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, so I couldn’t resist seeing both – inside then out, as it happened.

The SWP may have uncomfortable wooden benches without backs for seating, but it’s an exciting new venue. For a capacity of 340 it has an extraordinary intimacy and the quality of candle light is very special indeed. My only other venture here (so far) was for a 16th century opera and it was brilliant, and the good news is that it’s brilliant for Shakespeare too.

Dominic Dromgoole’s is a boisterous JC, which starts before you enter either theatre, as if you’re walking through the city of Rome – musicians, someone reciting the Rape of Lucrece, a temple alter, a publicly caged woman and one offering favours for money. With only nine ‘extras’ the crowd scenes are particularly effective. In both theatres they use the auditorium as well as the stage, but the SWP didn’t need the audience to join in for it to seem like you were in Wembley Stadium! The intimate scenes of conspiracy work better in the smaller space as you feel you’re more of a fly on the wall.

In this production, the murder of Caesar is particularly effective, more so in the bigger space. The battle scenes are harder to pull off without a huge cast, but here, somewhat surprisingly, the smaller space helped. Again, the bigger space benefitted the speeches after his death, made more effective by placing characters on wooden crates in the groundling space. Using the same actor who plays Caesar to play the man who assists Brutus kill himself, after Caesar has appeared to him as a ghost, is an excellent idea. I’m not sure of the context of the three women chanting, but they sounded gorgeous and it was highly atmospheric.

The success of this productions is of course very much due to a fine ensemble. George Irving is an older Caesar with a superiority juxtaposed with his ‘man of the people’ words and a very revealing fist entrance where he gifts money to a man in the crowd in a very kingly gesture. Tom McKay’s Brutus and Anthony Howell’s Cassius are both fine characterisations, making their decisions to kill themselves before being killed all very believable. Luke Thompson is a young Mark Anthony who shines in his passionate speech at Caesars body and his more manipulative one after his funeral. Christopher Logan is a particularly oily Casca, but a more reluctant player in the overthrow & murder game.

Even though they were less than two weeks apart, I thoroughly enjoyed both experiences, each bringing something different to this great political play. There were a few things, involving building and dropping, that they could’t do on the inside and there were things that worked better in each space, but they were both successful in their own way and this proved to be a worthwhile experiment which may mean the SWP will get more Shakespeare, which I don’t think was the intention!

This is a great Julius Caesar – inside and out.

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