The Globe x 2: Julius Caesar, and Antony and Cleopatra, June 2014
Just being at the Globe is magical. I waxed lyrical about it on this blog last year after our London visit so I won’t do it again now. Yes, we visited it often. Yes, we looked through the shop several times and were very fortunate to be able to buy the DVDs, delivered to the shop just an hour earlier, of two of the plays we saw last summer, The Tempest and Macbeth. So we’re hoping and expecting to see the DVDs of Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra in a year’s time.
Below you will find my reviews of these two plays. But first I must mention our great appreciation to the members of the staff who noted that Hal walks with a cane and that our seats were in the highest row in the theatre for Julius Caesar. We were escorted backstage (giving us glimpses of the cast, who nodded in a friendly way, and some props) to the staff lift in the depths of the Globe and up to our seats. In the pause we were met at our seats and escorted down again and back up. And again at the end. Wonderfully friendly helpful people. Thank you!
Now to the plays:
- Directed by: Dominic Dromgoole
- Cast: Brutus – Tom McKay; Marc Antony – Luke Thompson; Cassius – Anthony Howell; Julius Caesar – George Irving; Octavius Caesar – Joe Jameson; Casca – Christopher Logan; Lucius – Keith Ramsay; Calpurnia– Kary Stephens; Portia – Catherine Bailey
- Seen: June 20, 2014
Julius Caesar must be a hugely difficult play to do. All that political talk – how to make it comprehensible and dramatic?
One way is to follow the script. It is Shakespeare after all. Wisely, director Dominic Dromgoole has made this choice. With a solid, mainly young, cast. This, possibly the most famous political drama of all time, proceeds scene by scene at a brisk pace. I am engrossed from start to finish.
Because of my interest in Cassius I pay special attention to Anthony Howell’s interpretation. He’s really very good. Lean and hungry he is indeed. With a beautifully rich sonorous voice he argues, reasons, resents and grieves. Sadly a set of his best lines – “How many ages hence/ Shall this our lofty scene be acted over,/ In states unborn and accents yet unknown!.../ …So oft as that shall bee,/ So oft shall the knot of us be called/ The men that gave their country liberty…” – rather disappear in the drama of the assassination and the coughing of an unfortunate spectator near us, but his parting scene with Brutus is clear and wrenching.
There is little room for humour in this play but what there is is used well: Casca’s campy report on Caesar’s behaviour in the first scene, the silly jig after the angry confrontation between Brutus and Cassius, some of the citizens’ scenes and of course the mandatory and wonderful jig at the end.
Young Lucius, though a small role, deserves mention. Keith Ramsay plays it very well and he also has a most pleasant singing voice.
Sitting where we are – highest up in the last row in the centre – the visual effects are at their strongest. Just before the assassination as Cimber, Brutus and Cassius appeal to Caesar to pardon Cimber’s exiled brother, Cassius throws himself down prostrate at Caesar’s feet, his arms stretched out. Very strong. Seconds later the assassination. Bright red blood on white togas starkly contrasting against the wooden stage. Also the minimalist approach to the battle – six or seven soldiers in a rigid plunging dance – very rhythmic and oddly sensual.
The visual and audio effects of the three druids/muses who appear on the balcony above the stage singing in eerie disharmony after each death – of Caesar, of Cassius, of Brutus (here they appear on stage) – are very powerful.
It’s opening night and there are some wrinkles – dropped swords, fallen draperies, a certain stiff staginess at times, and sadly the two very potent roles of Calpurnia and Portia have not reached their full force.
We wonder too about the blood on the stage. Will they get it out before the next performance? Or even before Antony and Cleopatra which we’re seeing the day after tomorrow?
At the end the audience is jubilant and so are we. Readers of Shakespeare Calling and the movie blog know that I can be very negative to film versions of Shakespeare’s plays and maybe one day I will be to a stage performance. Maybe even at the Globe.
But not this time. I like this Julius Caesar very much indeed.
PS - We went back to the Globe a later evening and watched the activities in the lobby while waiting for the play to begin. We so wanted to back and see it again but, alas, we didn’t have tickets. But we saw some of the citizens and musicians give lively performances in the lobby, and both Calpurnia and Portia wafted in queenly majesty through the area.
PPS – In fact we forgot to notice the blood on the stage while watching Antony and Cleopatra.
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA
- Directed by: Jonathun Munby
- Cast: Cleopatra – Eve Best; Marc Antony – Clive Wood; Octavius Caesar – Jolyon Coy; Octavia and Iras – Rosie Hilal; Enobarbus – Phil Daniels; Eros and Messenger – Peter Bankolé; Charmian – Sirine Saba; Soothsayer – Jonathan Bonnici; Alexas – Kammy Darweish
- Seen: June 22, 2014
Readers of this blog know that it has been difficult for me to like Antony and Cleopatra which is why I have awaited this Globe performance with great curiosity. Talking before the play with a very nice couple from Sheffield who say that Eve Best has been given rave reviews turns the anticipation up a notch.
And it does indeed start out well. It’s boisterous and colourful, festive and full of gusto. It’s funny and lively. Eve Best’s Cleopatra is bawdy and ironic and a great comic. In her reeling-in-Antony-the-fish scene she flirts brazenly with a groundling and when he bites her finger she and the audience roar with laughter. I swear she blushes a little. Clive Wood as Antony does well. He too is funny, disrespectful, a bit of a lad, a lush actually. One of the play’s most interesting characters is the shrewd and outspoken Enobarbus and Phil Daniels does him justice. Eros and the Messenger are very well played by Peter Bankolé. The first half ends in gold and glitter and great enthusiasm from both cast and audience.
But sadly, when the play should shift from humour to drama and tragedy, it doesn’t. Cleopatra is not nearly as regal and imperious as she should be. Enobarbus, who in his repentance and suicide would have been so very strong if his final monologues had been subdued and introverted, is instead loud and melodramatic and a bit of a farce. Antony plays for laughs right up to his death which becomes shallow and not at all as gripping as it should be. After his death the play actually drags a bit until the scene with the asp.
Peter Bankolé plays his two roles with bravura all the way through, though, and a good choice was made in having Cleopatra die quite quietly, sitting straight in her golden throne, and the play ends effectively with the three women dead on the stage.
And then the jig.
The verdict? I like the play better than I did but mostly I see more clearly its potential. I do enjoy much of it and I’m glad to see it. But it’s still not Shakespeare’s best, nor my favourite.
So who cares? It’s the Globe!
For my texts on the two plays click on: