Sceptical, was I, that a tale so steeped in European history could be transferred to the African present. Upon entering the theatre members of the cast were already in full swing on stage. An African street band plays, a merchant sits upon his milk crate selling his wares and political campaigners stand with placards bearing the image of Caesar. It could be Addis Ababa, not Rome, surely?
As the action progressed, however, I was beginning to think the play seemed to be written for Africa, not Rome. It took a few moments to fully attune my ear to hearing Shakespearean English spoken with powerful African accents but when my auditory skills kicked in it seemed to work, magnificently.
The Noel Coward theatre is an intimate venue which suits this production beautifully ensuring that you feel very much a part of the action. The seats are comfortable and an advantage of a smaller venue is that every seat had a good view of the stage. The simple but effective set was cleverly manipulated by the cast to link scenes together without delaying the action and the costumes further added to the clever cross cultural mix. The African music, composed by Akintayo Akinbode, added continuity, and although used sparingly, it cleverly produced tension and mood throughout the performance.
The play was humorous, well-acted and powerful. Overseen by a messenger of doom, in the guise of a traditional African Shaman, the key speeches were excellently delivered and highlighted by subtle nuances from the actors. Ray Fearon delivered, ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ with true command and his sarcastic delivery wasn’t lost on the audience.
Two rows down in front of us a student clutched her copy of the script and was chatting avidly with her friend during the interval scribbling notes. It was obvious that they were gaining a lot of useful insight – so a couple of A*s in the making there I think. This production succeeded in making the politics and language of the past seem modern, relevant and totally accessible. The pulling down of Caesar’s statue in the aftermath of political upheaval was a powerful image which could have been a part of any modern day news bulletin. I have seen several versions of this play and I would have to say that this was one of the best and certainly the most innovative and enjoyable. The audience clearly appreciated the performance and gave the cast a well earned standing ovation. Directed by the RSC Chief Associate Director Gregory Doran the cast includes the talented Paterson Joseph as Brutus, Cyril Nri as Cassius, Jeffery Kissoon as Caesar and Ray Fearon as Mark Anthony. However special mention should also be made of those in the chorus and smaller roles who also gave powerful performances. Simon Manyonda as Lucius was one of those who made a strong impact. So, cry ‘havoc’, and let slip the dogs of war! This one’s causing a storm in London so get tickets whilst they’re available!
Reviewed by Sam and Elizabeth Lickiss
Booking Until: Saturday, 15th September 2012
Noel Coward Theatre
St Martins Lane
Saturday 18th August 2012