When announcing the 2017 summer season at the RSC, Creative Director Gregory Doran justified the choice of the Roman plays by saying that he felt we needed plays that talked to us about the issues that concern us today in the age of Trump and Brexit. Well before Orwell’s ‘newspeak’ and the Trump administration’s ‘alternative facts’, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, already addressed the misuse of language to achieve spurious political goals and power.
Julius Caesar is a highly rhetorical play where Shakespeare masterly explores how rhetorical and stylistic devises are used to persuade the masses and instigate rebellious feelings. Not that Mr Trump could ever achieve such levels of language sophistication with his limited vocabulary but he does employ rhetorical devices such as anaphora, symploce, antithesis, and above all aphorism – although I very much doubt he would be able to name them. Both Brutus and Marc Anthony employ such devices throughout the play but most noticeably in the scene of Caesar’s funeral (Act 3, Scene 2).
James Corrigan is absolutely brilliant in his delivery of the funeral soliloquy; it is easy to see how his intonation and the force of charisma could easily convince the audience of the righteousness of his feelings and intentions in spite of his cynicism and his master use of pathos to manipulate the mood of the common people. Alex Waldmann, who I had previously seen as a sweet Orlando in Aberg’s 2013 As You Like It, is also a very convincing Brutus and I was really impressed by the passionate altercation scene in his tent. However, the outstanding performance of the night was delivered by Martin Hutson as an intense and incredibly persuasive Cassius.
Angus Jackson’s take on the play couldn’t be more contemporary in spite of the togas, tunics, and leather-strip sandals. The stage props are minimal, even to Renaissance standards, but Robert Innes Hopkins’s minimalist approach to the design just intensifies the acting and make is it more visible the surge of emotions and the destructive power of the naked ambitions that burn like wild fire across the stage.