15 Jul Julius Caesar
Directed by Andrew Hilton
12 February – 21 March 2009
Production Photos © 2009 Graham Burke
Flavius & Lepidus Paul Brendan
Carpenter, Ligarius & Messala Peter Clifford
Murellus & Poet Christopher Bianchi
Cobbler & Octavius Caesar Byron Mondahl
Julius Caesar Simon Armstrong
Calphurnia Catherine McKinnon
Mark Antony Alun Raglan
Soothsayer & Volumnius Jonathan Nibbs
Caska Alan Coveney
Cassius Clive Hayward
Brutus Leo Wringer
Cicero & Clitus Paul Nicholson
Cinna & Lucilius Dan Winter
Lucius Jim Hilton & Felix Lehane
Trebonius & Strato Tom Sherman
Decius Brutus & Titinius Paul Currier
Metellus Cimber & Pindarus Marc Geoffrey
Portia Dani McCallum
Caesar’s Servant Craig Fuller
Octavius’ Servant & Young Cato Sam Harris
Director Andrew Hilton
Associate Director Dominic Power
Assistant Director Lars Gathe
Set & Costume Designer Harriet de Winton
Costume Supervisor Rosalind Marshall
Lighting Designer Tim Streader
Sound Designer & Composer Dan Jones
Fight Director Peter Clifford
Production Manager Joanna Cuthbert
Stage Manager Jayne Byrom
Deputy Stage Manager Eleanor Dixon
Assistant Stage Manager Fiona Jane Coombe
Carpenter Martin Moyes
Scenic Painter Elaine Carr
Costume Maintenance Miri Birch
Wardrobe Assistant Sophie Borton
Costume Laundry Kim Winter
★★★★ The Times … this production once again reveals Hilton’s genius for calling forth new vigour in the Shakespearean canon. His justly award-winning company, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, is ten years old this month and celebrates this achievement by assembling a cast of 20, its largest yet, and an astonishing number for a company that must fund 80 per cent of its costs from box-office returns.
A company strength has always been the lively playing in the smaller parts. The Soothsayer speaks no more than a dozen lines but Jonathan Nibbs uses them to create a figure of urgency and alarm. Octavian has not many more but is given a vivid indication of self-certainty by Byron Mondahl, playing him older than the “schoolboy” of his enemies’ mockery but with a cold assurance that augurs well for his reappearance in the Antony and Cleopatra that follows this production next month.
Alan Coveney’s sneering Casca and Clive Hayward’s ever-anxious Cassius are striking performances, and there is an impressive, gravely smiling Caesar from Simon Armstrong. Harriet de Winton costumes the actors in the Jacobean doublets and sinister black hats that link the play to the plots of Guy Fawkes. This may not be an all-perfect production but it does come enjoyably close to it. Jeremy Kingston
★★★★ The Guardian Fifty years after Shakespeare wrote Julius Caesar, a king lost his head in the English revolution. For those watching Shakespeare’s play at its Globe premiere in 1599, the issues of governance raised in the play would have been rumbling and urgent. How should a ruler rule? Should a potential tyrant be toppled? Do anarchy and chaos inevitably follow?
Andrew Hilton’s revival, with its olive green and black Puritan-style costumes, sets the action firmly in an early 17th-century London of shadows and bloody acts. But there is something about its speed and leanness that makes this production seem very modern, a parable for our own interventionist age. Cassius’s drip-drip of discontent into Brutus’s ear is a steady flow of doubtful intelligence manipulated for his own ends.
This is a racy, intelligent thriller shot through with a sardonic humour that constantly pricks at the stated ambitions of men and bursts the balloon of ideology. In this instance, the slaughter of Caesar comes with a scary, unnecessary violence so great he appears to lose his kidneys. That first bloody act leads to others, including the murder of the innocent Cinna, slaughtered by the baying rabble.
As ever, the intimacy of this space works its alchemy, and Hilton celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory seasons in customary rigorous style with a production that is never flash yet still cuts a considerable dash. There are no big budgets or stars here, but, bar a couple of hiccups in minor roles, there is well-spoken verse and detailed performance from actors working as a real ensemble. Long may it continue.Lyn Gardner
The British Theatre Guide
One of the achievements of this production of Julius Caesar is to make what can often seem a broken-backed play engage over the course of a full two-and-a-half hours. It is the finest thing I’ve seen by the company in some time …
The strength of the company lies in the ensemble work, rather than star names. Still, the production does not feel undercast. There is in particular excellent work from Clive Hayward as Cassius, strong support from Leo Wringer as Brutus, Alan Coveney as Casca, and a charismatic Alun Raglan as Mark Antony who needs, however, to rein back the ‘sturm’ at times.
Hilton and designer Harriet de Winton opt to locate the play in the 17th century at the time of the English Civil War, when the debate about how the country ought to be governed, and by whom, and by what authority, was at its height. Time and again Hilton, a scrupulous reader of the text, brings new insights. Thus when Leo Wringer, who played Othello in last year’s season, is brought into the conspiracy by a trick, a series of planted letters by Cassius, one is reminded of Othello, whose iron self-belief is built on his sense of personal honour, the undermining of which is to prove the cause of his self-destruction …
Finally, credit should also be paid to sound designer and composer Dan Jones whose work greatly augments the production, from the roars of the crowd to the chirp of the cicadas which accompany talk at the rebels’ camp.
The production didn’t convince me that the play is a great one but it’s the best argument I’ve seen for it to date. Pete Wood
Julius Caesar is a personal tragedy, played out within the small group of aristocrats that dominated the Roman Republic almost two thousand years ago. To us it is the stuff of old school books on the one hand and Hollywood epics on the other. To Shakespeare and his contemporaries, while it was similarly ‘ancient’ history, the assassination of Caesar was an urgent, controversial narrative about characters they felt reached out to them over the centuries and about issues that provoked and troubled them. An English Republic – in the sense we would understand it now – would not become a serious possibility until forty years after Shakespeare wrote his play, but debate about alternative forms of government, about how the ‘common weal’ could best be promoted and secured, had become a vivid thread in the nation’s intellectual and political life. The future King James 1 acknowledged as much in two 1598 treatises in which he felt it necessary to argue the case for unwavering obedience to hereditary rulers, be they good or bad.
Rome was key to this debate. The fount and treasury of civilised law and, together with Ancient Greece, the inspiration – in their politics, philosophy, poetry and drama – for the new humanism that was sweeping Europe, Rome’s journey from the tyranny of Tarquin, through the 450 years of the Republic to the foundation of Imperial rule by Octavius, served as a complex template for the analysis of England’s own governance, and inspired speculation as to how it might be re-ordered when the ageing virgin Queen Elizabeth died.
The Republic itself could serve as model, or as warning, depending on your point of view. Likewise, the assassination of Caesar divided opinion. Was he truly a tyrant in the making, or the victim of a manipulative slur generated by envy or private grievance? If the accusation were true, could his murder be justified, or would Rome pay an even higher price in the anarchy and mayhem that would inevitably follow? Politically, and perhaps morally, the same ambivalence can be found in the play.
What Shakespeare brings to the story – within a landscape that is more London than Rome, and more 1600 AD than 44 BC – is the intensity of the human experience of conceiving and committing a murder for ideological ends.
Date & Sources
It is fairly certain that Shakespeare wrote Julius Caesar, his first great tragedy, in 1599, possibly to open the new Globe Theatre. Later in the same year the play would still have been fresh in the audience’s mind when they first saw Hamlet and heard Polonius boast that he had once played Caesar himself – ‘I did enact Julius Caesar. I was killed i’ the Capitol. Brutus killed me.’
Shakespeare had already pursued an interest in Roman history, in his narrative poem The Rape of Lucrece and his early (and only intermittently factual) tragedy, Titus Andronicus. Two more of his very greatest plays, Antony & Cleopatra and Coriolanus, were to continue the theme.
He was far from alone in this. Roman heroes and villains, and Roman history itself figured hugely in the Elizabethan imagination and in its drama, with plays by Mary Herbert, Samuel Daniel, Samuel Brandon, Thomas Kyd, Richard Eedes and Fulke Greville, as well as by many others, both known and anonymous.
We know of no printing of Julius Caesar before the first Folio of 1623; frequent references to the play in the interim suggest that it had been produced repeatedly. This popularity has continued to the present day, with hardly a decade going by without a production.
The principal source for the play – as for Antony & Cleopatra and Coriolanus – was Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, in the Elizabethan translation by Sir Thomas North. A first acquaintance with North’s book is rather shocking. It is immediately evident that from it Shakespeare lifted lines, even whole paragraphs, with a blatancy that would have modern media lawyers rubbing their hands with glee. But the borrowing is keenly selective, and mediated by Shakespeare’s own, increasingly sceptical, attitude to Roman values and society. His plays are dramatic reimaginings, bringing personality and passion to the fore; but they also amount to a profound and far-reaching critique of Elizabethan obeisance to ancient Rome.
Other sources and influences are likely to have included histories by Tacitus, Suetonius and Appian, and Euripides play Iphigenia in Aulis. More contemporary influences may have included an Italian play, Il Cesare, by Orlando Pescetti and the anonymous English play The Tragedy of Casear and Pompey, or Caesar’s Revenge.
from Plutarch’s ‘Lives’, translated by Sir Thomas North
Of Brutus and Portia, before Caesar’s assassination
… Now Brutus (who knew very well that for his sake all the noblest, valiantest, and most courageous men of Rome did venture their lives) weighing with himself the greatness of the danger, when he was out of his house he did so frame and fashion his countenance and looks that no man could discern he had anything to trouble his mind. But when night came that he was in his own house, then he was clean changed. For, either care did wake him against his will when he would have slept, or else oftentimes of himself he fell into such deep thoughts of this enterprise, casting in his mind all the dangers that might happen, that his wife, lying by him, found that there was some marvellous great matter that troubled his mind, that he could not well determine with himself. Portia was the daughter of Cato, whom Brutus married being his cousin, not a maiden, but a young widow after the death of her first husband Bibulus.
This young lady being excellently well seen in philosophy, loving her husband well, and being of a noble courage, because she would not ask her husband what he ailed before she had made some proof by her self she took a little razor such as barbers occupy to pare men’s nails, and causing her maids and women to go out of her chamber, gave her self a great gash withal in her thigh, that she was straight all of a gore-blood; and, incontinently after, a vehement fever took her, by reason of the pain of her wound. Then perceiving her husband was marvellously out of quiet and that he could take no rest, even in her greatest pain of all she spake in this sort unto him: ‘I being, 0 Brutus,’ said she, ‘the daughter of Cato, was married unto thee, not to be thy bedfellow and companion in bed and at board only, like a harlot, but to be partaker also with thee of thy good and evil fortune. Now for thyself, I can find no cause of fault in thee touching our match. But for my part, how may I show my duty towards thee and how much I would do for thy sake, if I cannot constantly bear a secret mischance or grief with thee, which requireth secrecy and fidelity? I confess that a woman’s wit commonly is too weak to keep a secret safely. But yet, Brutus, good education and the company of virtuous men have some power to reform the defect of nature. And for myself, I have this benefit moreover: that I am the daughter of Cato and wife of Brutus. This notwithstanding, I did not trust to any of these things before, until that now I have found by experience that no pain nor grief whatsoever can overcome me.’ With those words she showed him her wound on her thigh and told him what she had done to prove herself. Brutus was amazed to hear what she said unto him, and, lifting up his hands to heaven, he besought the gods to give him the grace he might bring his enterprise to so good pass, that he might be found a husband worthy of so noble a wife as Portia. So he then did comfort her the best he could.
Of the murder of Cinna the Poet
The next morning [after the assassination of Caesar] Brutus and his confederates came into the market-place to speak into the people, who gave them such audience that it seemed they neither greatly reproved nor allowed the fact. For by their great silence they showed that they were sorry for Caesar’s death, and also that they did reverence Brutus. Now the Senate granted general pardon for all that was past and, to pacify every man, ordained besides that Caesar’s funerals should be honoured as a god, and established all things that he had done, and gave certain provinces also and convenient honours unto Brutus and his confederates, whereby every man thought all things were brought to good peace and quietness again.
But when they had opened Caesar’s testament and found a liberal legacy of money bequeathed unto every citizen of Rome, and that they saw his body (which was brought into the market-place) all so bemangled with gashes of swords, then there was no order to keep the multitude and common people quiet. But they plucked up forms, tables, and stools, and laid them all about the body, and setting them afire burnt the corpse. Then, when the fire was well kindled, they took the firebrands and went unto their houses that had slain Caesar, to set them afire. Other also ran up and down the city to see if they could meet with any of them to cut them in pieces. Howbeit they could meet with never a man of them, because they had locked themselves up safely in their houses.
There was one of Caesar’s friends called Cinna, that had a marvellous strange and terrible dream the night before. He dreamed that Caesar bade him to supper, and that he refused, and would not go; then that Caesar took him by the hand, and led him against his will. Now Cinna hearing at that time that they burnt Caesar’s body in the market-place, notwithstanding that he feared his dream and had an ague on him besides, he went into the market-place to honour his funerals. When he came thither, one of the mean sort asked him what his name was? He was straight called by his name. The first man told it to another, and that other unto another, so that it ran straight through them all that he was one of them that murdered Caesar. For indeed one of the traitors to Caesar was also called Cinna as himself. Wherefore, taking him for Cinna the murderer, they fell upon him with such fury that they presently dispatched him in the market-place.
The People of the Play…
The play is set in the 6th century BC, during the last years of the Roman Republic. The Republic had replaced an unpopular monarchy – last represented by the tyrant Tarquin – about 450 years before.
Julius Caesar has recently returned to Rome after a successful military campaign against sons of his old rival, Pompey the Great. The annual Feast of Lupercal has been chosen for celebrations in his honour. This festival was so old in origin that not even the Romans themselves understood it, though they agreed in regarding its rituals, in which Mark Antony will take part, as a purification and fertility rite.
There is dissension in the city about the appropriateness of Caesar’s latest victory – which has been over fellow Romans, not over foreign barbarians – being celebrated in this way.
Caesar occupies the position of ‘Dictator’ at the head of the Republican government. This role had formerly been a temporary expedient in time of national emergency but has been conferred on Caesar in perpetuity, diminishing the authority of the Senate and the aristocratic oligarchy from which it is elected. Whether Caesar may desire or attempt to become crowned King is the pivotal question in the first part of the play.
The conspirators against him are led by Brutus and his brother-in-law, Cassius, both ‘Praetors’ in the Roman legislature, a rank one level below Consul. Brutus is believed to be descended from the legendary Junius Brutus who was instrumental in banishing Tarquin from Rome and establishing the Republic. He has had a close, personal friendship with Caesar.
Mark Antony is the chief among Caesar’s friends. He is a Consul, and an established General, with a reputation for high living. After Casear’s death he will form the ruling Triumvirate with Octavius Caesar (Caesar’s great nephew and adopted son) and Lepidus.
Cicero, who plays only a small part in the action, was one of Rome’s most influential philosophers, orators and statesmen and was highly regarded and widely read in Renaissance Europe. He was not part of the conspiracy, but was nonetheless killed and decapitated on Antony’s orders in the aftermath.
Caska, a member of the conspiracy and the first to stab Caesar, is (as he appears in the play) largely Shakespeare’s invention. Plutarch records that he fought with Brutus at the battle of Philippi and died soon after.
Portia, Brutus’ wife, was daughter to Marcus Cato, famed for his stubbornness, integrity and opposition to Caesar. A supporter of Pompey the Great, he killed himself rather than be captured after the battle of Thapsus. His son – Portia’s younger brother – appears briefly in the play in Brutus’ army.