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Noel Coward Theatre till 15th September
Review by Victor Mellors
This inventive and charismatic reimagining of one of Shakespeare’s more tedious tragedies breathes life back into JULIUS CAESAR, but not in a way you thought possible. Set in modern day sub-Saharan Africa, Caesar (Jeffrey Kissoon) is the ‘fly-whip-flaunting’ leader of an African republic. Strong currents of autocracy and tyranny are present from the very start with a colossal Stalinesque Caesar statue that dominates much of the stage.
In a play that often climaxes around midway, after rousing speeches and dramatic last words such as, ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen...’ and ‘Et tu, Brute?’, Gregory Doran’s captivating production does very well not to let up on the speed or intensity during the final two acts, as Rome, or Africa descends into a violent and chaotic battlefield. In fact, this adaptation does very well to capture the essence of Shakespeare’s Rome in modern day Africa, and not just in the political similarities of corruption. The Soothsayer role (Theo Ogundipe) appears to come to life when transported to Africa, dressed in ‘Shamanesque’ attire and smothered in white ash, the character brings the supernatural elements prevalent in the play into the modern day.
Performed by an all black cast, the level of acting is notably strong. Patterson Joseph (The Beach, Peepshow) gave a nuanced performance as Brutus, subtlety showing the lighter honesty and integrity of the character, but excelling at his darker, violent and bloodthirsty nature. Adjoa Andoh, playing one of just a few female parts in this male dominated play, gave a particularly strong and extraordinary performance as Portia. Another notable performance was Ray Fearon’s Mark Antony, which possessed both the power and the honesty to rally the audience into a frenzied revolutionary spirit.
The production succeeds in transporting the play to the present day and in finding contemporary issues of corruption and tyranny in Africa that fit perfectly with Caesar’s Rome. The adaptation is testament to the fact that Shakespeare’s work is ever relevant to our changing and modern society, and can be used to highlight important political and social issues that are going on in our world today.
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