Review: RSC's Julius Caesar is a harrowing account of power and betrayal

Martin Hutson as Cassius. Picture: Helen Maybanks
Martin Hutson as Cassius. Picture: Helen Maybanks

Roseanne Edwards reviews Julius Caesar, presented by the RSC at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford

“It was harrowing; but I’m so glad I have seen it,” said one woman to another, sipping tea after the performance.

What was ‘harrowing’ was the bloodletting of Caesar and Mark Antony’s vicious dispatch of the page, Lucius, via a wrench of the neck to gasps in the audience - just two of the dramatic scenes in the first of a 2017 season of tragic Rome thrillers at Stratford.

Antony and Cleopatra shows simultaneously with Julius Caesar this summer, with Coriolanus and Titus Andronicus to follow.

The quality of acting, direction, staging, lighting and production at the RST is a gift. The thunderstorm presaging the disturbance of the power tussle with ambitious Caesar is chilling. Conspiracy, betrayal – the bloodletting stabbings – are staged within a forum into which we have personal sight, between the marble columns of Rome. Chief plotters Cassius and Brutus lead the youthful new generation headed for power through the coup.

The politics of the piece bring us back into the 21st century and it is no accident that the exhibition of political cartoons in the gallery above the theatre contains an image of the latest comparator, US president Donald Trump, in a toga on the Senate steps.

With Alex Waldmann as Brutus, Martin Hutson a strong, persuasive Cassius, James Corrigan as Mark Antony and Andrew Woodall as Caesar. The world’s best Shakespeare is on your doorstep; take advantage. This is a gripping production - see it.

* Julius Caesar runs until September 9. Call 01789 403493 to book.