Review: Julius Caesar, a production of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in association with Oxford Playhouse and Oxford Festival of the Arts, in Oxford until 24 July and then touring throughout the UK until 17 September. Click here to book your tickets in Oxford. Book your tickets here for the rest of the tour.
[Disclosure: Shakespeare's Globe provided me with free tickets, a free programme and free drinks for the purposes of this review.]
Julius Caesar is this year’s touring production from Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. I love the touring arm of Shakespeare’s Globe as it brings theatre back to its very origins. In Shakespeare’s time (1564-1616), travelling players, following traditional touring routes across the country, spread entertainment, political ideas and propaganda for their wealthy patrons. Theatre was as much a political tool as it was entertainment.
Julius Caesar is a political play and has been used over the years to illustrate many different, sometimes contradictory, political lessons from the corrupting influence of absolute power, to the power of the common people to effect political change.
Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar follows the story of Caesar on his return to Rome from his victory against his rival Pompey. Despite refusing the title of king three times, his peers, including his close friend Brutus, decide that Caesar has become too ambitious. Brutus and his peers believe that Caesar is endangering their hard fought for Republic and murder Caesar and bathe in his blood – despite apparently being honourable men.
I took this photo just before the show started.
This is a beautifully produced production with some truly spectacular performances across the board. In Oxford, the stage has been set up in the magical grounds of Magadalen College school, which was founded in 1480 and may have been known to Shakespeare. The location is stunning – though walking to the outdoor theatre across fairy-light bridges – it felt more like entering the world of a Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Photo looking toward the stage, from one of the many picturesque bridges on the site of Magdalen College School. I took this photo during the interval.
While I loved this production, I know that not everyone will. It is a dense and violent political thriller that lays bare all the grim realities of greed, ambition, power and mob mentality. Although the programme lists the running time as 2 hours and 40 minutes (including a gorgeous interval), on the day I went, the final applause was 3 hours after the listed start time.
This means that it is a long play for children. With the summer holidays starting, there were many children in the audience, who bravely soldiered on, but may have been wilting toward the end.
There was one criticism that I would make of this production – and that is the curtain call. There is a fashion now in theatre to turn the curtain call into a jolly musical dance. It’s much more entertaining for the audience and provides a great fun release for the actors. In a comedy, it’s the perfect ending. But in a hard core, grim political thriller – it felt a bit jarring as blood covered, murdered characters leaped up and started doing a jolly jig. It’s a minor point, but for me, it undid some of the harsh grimness that the previous 3 hours had carefully built up. Maybe that’s the point – you don’t want your audience leaving depressed.
I loved this production, but you need to be in the right mindset to enjoy it – and I know that not everyone is at the moment.
If you enjoyed reading this review, you might enjoy reading my other posts about Shakespeare here.