The latest RSC production of Julius Caesar set in a modern day Africa with an all-black class was GENIUS.
The setting starts off jolly as some of the audience interacts with market sellers selling their wares and the local musicians play and dance as we all wait for the arrival of Julius Caesar and the first Act to begin.
Caesar’s (Jeffery Kissoo) growing power and popularity hasn’t gone unnoticed. Caius Cassius (Cyril Nri) plants the first seeds of conspiracy that he wants to be King and rule Rome. What follows is a kind of deadly game of Chinese whispers as one by one the senate are convinced and manipulated into assassinating Caesar for the good of Rome, led by Caesar’s good friend Marcus Brutus (Paterson Joseph).
Still with a true Shakespearean flair but with added vibe and Africanisms’ the tension held thorough out, from the imminent assassination of Caesar to the aftermath and repercussions.
The ‘Roman African’ setting transplanted well – the political double dealings and corruption didn’t look out of place. For example the famous Soothsayer now the town’s Witch doctor warning Caesar of his pending death and betrayals.
A noted scene for me is when the poet Cinna is killed by the angry mob because he has the same name as one of the senators – his death echoes today’s African mob justice – bound by car tyres and doused in petrol.
I have to say that it was the performances and setting that hooked me in and didn’t get me lost amongst the Shakespearean tongue. Stand out performances were Ray Fearon as the Adidas wearing Marc Anthony – Who excellently delivered a presence of first arrogance with his swagger and coolest, and then the bereavement and anger for revenge. The delivery of Anthony’s clever call for justice speech “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears…” is breath-taking.
Paterson Joseph as Brutus excellently portrayals the battle that his conscious and righteous voice is playing out – the anxiety and guilt he feels and the belief that what he has done is for the good of Rome.
Having never studied Shakespeare at school and this being my third play, have to say starting to like this guy William Shakespeare – next up King Lear.
Links: RSC website
Notes: Saw production on 1 September 2012, Review published 9 September 2012