Julius Caesar

The Crucible
- , 2017

Tickets cost £15 - £31
Phone: 0114 249 6000

Julius Caesar and his conspiring senators are transposed into the modern era in Robert Hastie’s debut as artistic director. Our review...

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What an opportune moment to catch a new production of Julius Caesar. In the midst of pre-election Brexit Britain, the questions that this play raises about democracy, leadership, and the power and danger of rhetoric strike a very loud chord indeed.

Julius Caesar marks Robert Hastie’s first production as artistic director of Sheffield Theatres. His version of Rome, aided by Ben Stones’ set design, is placed in the modern era – there’s a contemporary senate chamber, the characters wear sharp suits, and in the final battle, both guns and daggers do the killing. While we’re definitely no longer in Ancient Rome, we can’t quite put a finger on precisely where we’ve ended up, and keeping the setting modern yet vague in its specifics serves to highlight the universality of the play’s warning – the struggles at its heart still happen today, and they can happen anywhere.

Julius Caesar is a production that makes room for several leads, the most interesting here being Samuel West, who returns to the Crucible stage with an intriguing interpretation of Brutus. He is pensive, measured, and rather introverted under West’s command, qualities which play up his agonising over the decision to assassinate the much-loved Caesar for the good of Rome. Standing in stark contrast to West’s Brutus is the slick and forceful Cassius, here reincarnated as female by Zoë Waites. The dynamic between these two – Brutus the moralising thinker and Cassius the unscrupulous doer – is one of the most interesting at play within this diverse cast.

The famous "friends, Romans, countrymen" speech falls to Elliot Cowan, who makes for a suitably persuasive Mark Antony, whipping up Rome’s citizens – here fleshed out by members of Sheffield People’s Theatre – into a murderous frenzy. Julius Caesar, played by Jonathan Hyde, is confident and suave, with just the right amount of smarm. His sashays across the stage flanked by a suited and booted entourage, and his gracious waves for a public held back by crowd control barriers, give him the air of an A-list celebrity, a Caesar for a modern age.

Along with the bloodbath we might expect from a Shakespearean tragedy, what we’re also left with is a whole host of questions, and really that is the point, both here and in the original. Is Brutus Rome’s saviour or its destroyer? Is Caesar a charismatic leader or an ambitious tyrant? And when it comes to deciphering the truth, is it what you hear, or how it’s delivered, that really makes the difference?

Photo by Johan Persson courtesy of Sheffield Theatres.

Written by Emma Liasides; December 15, 2016