Shakespeare with a twist from the RSC; BARBARA HODGSON meets the men behind the RSC's African take on Julius Caesar, opening in Newcastle tomorrow.Byline: BARBARA HODGSON
ABRIGHTLY dressed crowd breaks into song. Men in combats and bandanas, machetes in hand and guns slung over their shoulders, are half lounging, half on the alert, and we get the feeling something big is about to kick off.
To all intents and purposes Adv. 1. to all intents and purposes - in every practical sense; "to all intents and purposes the case is closed"; "the rest are for all practical purposes useless"
for all intents and purposes, for all practical purposes the scene is modern-day Africa, that underlying tension tied up with its political upheaval.
In reality it's the setting for the turbulent heart of ancient Rome Ancient Rome was a civilization that grew from a small agricultural community founded on the Italian Peninsula circa the 9th century BC to a massive empire straddling the Mediterranean Sea. in the Royal Shakespeare Company's groundbreaking new production of Julius Caesar Julius Caesar: see Caesar, Julius. .
Director Greg Doran, who takes up his new post as the company's artistic director later in the year, is justly proud of the work, which features an all-black cast and East African Adj. 1. East African - of or relating to or located in East Africa accents and opens in Newcastle tomorrow following its run at the RSC's Stratford upon Avon home.
The parallels drawn between contemporary Africa and the Bard's political thriller A political thriller is a thriller that is set against the backdrop of political power struggle. They usually involve various plots, rarely legal, designed to give political power to someone, while his opponents try to stop him from getting it. are nothing new, he points out when we meet at Stratford's newly rebuilt Royal Shakespeare Theatre The Royal Shakespeare Theatre is a large national theatre owned by the Royal Shakespeare Company dedicated to the British playwright and poet William Shakespeare, and is located in his birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon, in the English Midlands. . South African actor John Kani Bonsile John Kani (1943 -) is a South African actor, director and playwright.
He was born in New Brighton, South Africa.
Kani joined The Serpent Players (a group of actors whose first performance was in the former snake pit of the zoo, hence the name) in Port even dubbed it Shakespeare's Africa play.
He adds: "Nelson Mandela Noun 1. Nelson Mandela - South African statesman who was released from prison to become the nation's first democratically elected president in 1994 (born in 1918)
Mandela, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela at Robben Island had a copy of Shakespeare's complete works which belonged to one of the ANC ANC
African National Congress
ANC African National Congress: South African political movement instrumental in bringing an end to apartheid
ANC n abbr (= inmates and was disguised as a prayer book so the guards allowed them to have it.
"The most-read of the plays was Julius Caesar and Mandela himself had underlined Caesar's lines and autographed it."
Kani told him it seemed to echo Africa; that Julius Nyerere - the first president of Tanzania - had it translated into Swahili and that it is now the most frequently performed play on the continent of Africa.
Struck by its history of freedom fighters-turned-presidents-turned tyrants, Doran drew further parallels from the Arab Spring, the key question being "not are they going to get rid of Gaddafi, but what happens next?" That concern of who fills the vacuum left by a deposed ruler is one which rears its head in the play with the early assassination Assassination
See also Murder.
Fanatical Moslem sect that smoked hashish and murdered Crusaders (11th—12th centuries). [Islamic Hist.: Brewer Note-Book, 52]
conspirator and assassin of Julius Caesar. [Br. of Caesar. The leader is played by Jeffery Kissoon, with Paterson Joseph as Marcus Brutus, Ray Fearon as Mark Antony and Cyril Nri as Cassius embroiled in what is a sweaty, testosterone-fuelled all-action, though not particularly bloody, showdown.
The established actors - familiar faces on TV as well as RSC regulars - meet us the morning after I saw the play (Prince Charles was also in the audience) and their close on-stage relationship carries through to a jovial (Jules' Own Version of the International Algebraic Language) An ALGOL-like programming language developed by Systems Development Corp. in the early 1960s and widely used in the military. Its key architect was Jules Schwartz. and relaxed banter in real-life.
Yes, it's a play for the boys, they say, and they've certainly lost weight - about four kilos they reckon - working up a sweat. "It's Africa!" laughs Fearon, who's been in Coronation Street, the 2006 series of Strictly Come Dancing and several times with the RSC in the North East.
Away from the political differences, their characters share an "old boys' network" and a love as they've grown up and attended military college together. A rare chance to see another side to these men of war is through the scenes featuring the wives of Caesar and Brutus, so the women are very important, says Adjoa Andoh who plays Brutus' Portia.
"It's a love story on many different levels," adds Doran. "I knew it was a political thriller but I was not expecting those other aspects." Moving out on tour from the new theatre - which now includes a viewing tower alongside its best 1930s features and original stage floorboards re-laid in the foyer so we too can follow in the footsteps of Laurence Olivier and Judi Dench - they will introduce an interval which it hasn't had, Doran being of the view that it wouldn't have had one originally. So, they'll be focusing now on maintaining the momentum of a story which is driven at speed.
Touring has a way of freshening up the experience for its cast. It's already changed following the film they made of early performances for BBC Four as part of the Shakespeare season for the Cultural Olympiad, and they are well into character now.
Of Brutus, Joseph says: "Before the assassination, he is quite a contained person. He expresses himself but not to other people." Nri, meanwhile, reckons research has given him a real insight: "I see Cassius as a manic depressive. If you look, clinically, at what's written on the page, I think Shakespeare has written a manic depressive, but I hadn't seen him played that way before."
They all met the heir to the throne when he visited them backstage the previous night - and they laugh that during the show they were conscious of him in their sight-line during references to deposing a king - and the RSC patron told them that this show had enabled him to "hear the play differently".
Among the cast there's a feeling of being involved in groundbreaking theatre, which is relevant, and accessible, to everyone.
Kissoon talks proudly of his role in an all-black British cast and of a coachload of black theatre-goers visiting from Birmingham.
The work of a playwright who was such an insightful social and political commentator of his time resonates more now than ever, it seems.
Doran thinks Shakespeare would have recognised more in Africa than he would the England of today.
He decided on East African accents for the play, not more obvious West African: "We based it in East Africa and didn't connect too deliberately with the west. We wanted to smudge it." A visually powerful production, its set is intended to resemble a football stadium typically used as a location for "an ANC rally, massacre in Mogadishu or the Rumble in the Jungle". At the back is a Saddam Hussein-like statue of a figure with a noose around its neck which topples over at the end.
Doran, who's spent a lot of time in South Africa, studied pictures of Africans in ceremonial dress and found one where the outfits resembled togas, "a happy coincidence", he says, which translates into the traditional Roman-style togas worn in the play's senate scenes.
The play promises us a taste of treats to come when Doran officially become RSC boss, and he's confirmed the company's commitment to continuing its close 35-year relationship with the region.
The season of old may have been drastically reduced in recent years, during the theatre's pounds 112m rebuild, but he says: "I'm absolutely determined that Newcastle will continue to play a really important part in the RSC's vitality."
Julius Caesar is at the Theatre Royal from tomorrow until July 28. Visit www.theatreroyal.co.uk or call 08448 112 121.
ALL-ACTION Paterson Joseph as Brutus, left and above (pictured right, with Cyril Nri as Cassius, left) in scenes from Julius Caesar. Pictures by Kwame Lestrade BLOOD ON HIS HANDS Brutus (Paterson Joseph), left, with Cassius (Cyril Nri)