Review: Julius Caeser, St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, WC2

Julius Caesar: a full-blooded affair

Julius Caesar: a full-blooded affair - Credit: Archant

With a great cast, thrilling staging, and plenty of blood, Julius Caesar is sure to be a summer hit for Iris Theatre.

Shakespeare’s political thriller is told in promenade in the ideal setting of the Actor’s Church in Covent Garden and its gardens – if you squint, the columns of the church could be the Forum in ancient Rome. And the audience becomes the Roman public.

The play here could be called Brutus, for it belongs to him. He is the reluctant hero – the one called upon by Cassius to lead the assassination of Caesar, who is on the eve of being appointed “king” of Rome.

Shakespeare, who would have a made a great speech-writer, appeals to all our consciences as Brutus argues for necessary change, while Mark Antony tugs at our sense of loyalty.

The pacing is spot-on and the diction is clear as a bell.

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It’s a full-blooded affair, with the cast stomping around in heavy boots, bashing riot shields, sparring with knives. Iris have a flair for audience participation, and we are handed masks, and pressed into joining the ranks of the rebels.

It feels strange, momentarily, when the cast adopt traditional attire for the coronation and assassination, but the reason becomes clear – in theatre, blood stains and white tunics belong together.

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This version has been cut; and much of the political ruminating which slows down the action has been shed.

In two places this was perhaps over zealous.

We don’t get enough of a sense of Caesar’s character, which is vital in forming an opinion as to whether his was a necessary slaughter.

Secondly, his living relationship with Brutus has been reduced to almost nothing. Brutus’s doubts, his regret and visions must come from a personal attachment to Caesar, whose death is, for all the assailants, a kind of patricide.

The play asks at what point does your obligation as a citizen require an individual to act against the state – it’s inflammatory material that speaks directly to our times.

A stunning finale inside the church, in the shadow of a statue of Caesar rounds off a very satisfying evening’s entertainment. So head to Covent Garden and join the revolution!

Until July 26.

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