Live Review: Julius Caesar at York Theatre Royal

The Royal Shakespeare Company bills this production as ‘a fast paced political thriller which forces us all to consider how far we would go for our political principles.’

By Angie Millard

Production photos by Marc Brenner

Certainly, Shakespeare views Julius Caesar as dangerous and divisive and the director,  Atri Banerjee, agrees. This is one of those plays which suits 2023 perfectly.

Nigel Barrett is a puzzling Caesar who never overplays his advantages but some of the Roman Senate sees him as a threat to democracy and a group of revolutionaries take the decision to assassinate him. This unleashes a chain of events which result in civil war and chaos.

This is a modern and  Avant-Garde production. Rosanna Vize sets the play in a revolving cube of which one side is a projection screen. It also becomes a ghost cage for all the murdered characters. Banerjee has a clear agenda for the piece but after Caesar’s funeral events it became quite difficult to follow.

The play features much oratory and has the famous speech beginning: ‘friends, Romans and countrymen lend me your ears’ spoken by Mark Antony and played by William Robinson. Through this rhetoric he persuades the senate of impending danger and Brutus’s betrayal. Brutus, Caesar’s trusted ally, is played with restraint by Thalissa Teixeira. Cassius is more determined and together they are a believable duo. The sly conspirator Casca (Matthew Bulgo) is a typical thug and all the characters required to mount a successful revolution are here.

Most interesting and noteworthy, however, is that Jessa Liversidge was recruited as the Musical director for YTR’s community Champions Chorus. She told me that each partner theatre on the tour chose an M.D. and six local women who have all contributed to their communities in various ways. She travelled to London and Stratford for rehearsals, met the other M.D.s and saw the original production there. Jessa describes the women as really inspiring. They have worked with children, young people, the disabled, old people, people with addiction issues and charities. They come with a range of experience and Jessa has worked with them for five weeks before being joined by the tour M.D. and the Assistant Director. She describes the experience as an exciting project and it is part of a three year programme to expand the reach of the RSC’s touring footprint.

I would have liked to hear more of their vocal input but appreciated their appearances to reinforce the use of fate and superstition in the play.

The use of a black substance to signify blood in the scenes of stabbing and murder was a novel idea and did not allow any escape from the aftermath of the stabbings. Everyone on the stage was marked by it but maybe that’s  the whole  point when you ‘unleash the dogs of war’?

Julius Caesar is being performed at York Theatre Royal until 17 June 2023.