Lyric Hammersmith, London W6
Opened 7 September, 2005

For his first production as artistic director of the Lyric Hammersmith, David Farr has revived the Shakespeare play he toured for the RSC last autumn.  Its set of steel gantries looks a bit awry in Frank Matcham’s Victorian-gilt theatre, but makes more sense amid the scaffolding and road works outside.  Overall, though, this is a strangely unimpressive calling card. It doesn’t mess up, but it’s no great Shakes (ha).

The feel of the production is very much stripped-down: that sparse set, on which a couple of synth players sit making radiophonic noises, and civilian costumes that are mostly modern-casual.  Farr’s interpretation of the Roman politicking, too, takes no sides and offers no insights. This factionalism is the fabric of Rome, he suggests.  It’s not a view to take issue with, but it leaves little room for engagement.

Christopher Saul’s Caesar is a vain blusterer who reminds me oddly of Frederick Forsyth; Adrian Schiller’s Cassius indeed has a lean and hungry look, but not a matching inner hunger.  As Brutus, Zubin Varla is skilled at being an anguished man of principle. His performance recalls his 1996 role as Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar.  The trouble is he “sings” the verse here also: too musical to be potent.

The big hole in the characterisation here is Gary Oliver as Mark Antony.  He begins as Caesar’s burly lieutenant, like the second-in-command of a gang of football hooligans. Suddenly, after the assassination, he begins to play the funeral crowd like a master violinist.  I couldn’t detect any continuity here, nor any sign of the passion that might motivate such a fundamental shift. He changes just because the plot needs it.

The tone of the production is modern-brutal: the assassins daub themselves with Caesar’s blood from a bucket.  The video-camera projections at the funeral are only saved from cliché by use of video feedback, so that images stream away like the old Dr Who titles.  There’s no sense that the civil war resolves anything, or even that there is anything to resolve. That’s a modern nihilist view, but not Shakespeare’s.

Written for Teletext.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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