Overdone and Unimpressed
A review of Julius Caesar by Elena Maria Piech
With a theatre located in Stratford-upon-Avon, a town solely recognized for being the birthplace of William Shakespeare, one would assume the Royal Shakespeare Company could easily offer smooth and sophisticated variations of Shakespeare classics. Judging from the most recent production of Julius Caesar, even the producers and directors at the established RSC experiences creative ruts.
Two major issues accounted for the demise of this performance: overacting and an unbelievable soundscape. The stage at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon is a semi-square shape surrounded by three tiers of audience seating. None of the actors in this performance appeared to have microphones. To compensate for the lack of any type audio enhancers, the performers were oftentimes yelling and literally spitting out their lines. At one point, a speech by Martin Hutson, who plays Cassius, seemed hard to follow due to the amount of spit gushing out of his mouth. If Angus Jackson and Robert Innes Hopkins, the directors and designer of Julius Caesar, wanted their characters to not have microphones they should have considered their venue. The acoustics in the RSC do not play favorably to those without audio equipment. The spit alone is a strong enough reason to turn away from the performance.
Aside from the spit, another reason to leave the RSC might be the poor staging and overacting. At one point, audience members sitting in the first tier of seating might not be able to view a key moment in a speech by Cassius simply because the supporting actors barricade themselves between the stage and the audience. As Mark Shenton harshly, but honestly wrote in The Stage, “supporting actors around [the main actors] sometimes feel like they’re in a drama school showing, and with everyone sporting modern-day haircuts, they feel out of joint with the period feeling that the production has otherwise adopted.” The performance reeked of amateur theatre, rather than a performance put on by the established RSC. This is not to speak poorly of community theatres, but at over £35 a ticket, audiences have the right to uphold high expectations. Julius Caesar failed to deliver.
Along with the acting, Julius Caesar also brought along an unbelievable sound design. At one point in the play, several of the actors talk to one another during a thunderstorm. First off, the thunder sounds unrealistic and all the audio sounds as if it were not recorded for a spatial environment. Rather than feeling immersed in an actual storm, it is easy to think about the tech guy handling special effects backstage. The audio and other technical aspects of the production seemed too predictable. Referring back to the thunderstorm scene, whenever a character said a powerful or selfish line, a flash of lighting and the sound of thunder were automatically present on stage. The staging and technical elements lacked creativity.
The production was not enjoyable to watch and the actors did not create likeable characters either. The entire premise of this Shakespeare play revolves around the plan of Brutus, played by Alex Waldemann, and other associates to murder Caesar. Caesar is the titular character of the production, but Andrew Woodall’s Caesar feels underwhelming. His lackluster performance during the first half of the production failed to present a convincing argument for either liking or loathing him. Instead of Woodall becoming Caesar, it felt more as if he were an older man who seemed excited to finally receive his “big break” in a theatrical production. His performance was one-dimensional and easy to see through. The same assessment can be made for the handful of other actors who played soldiers, politicians, and townspeople with speaking roles. The first acting director must have wanted the leading characters to have an over-the-top and unbelievable performance. The second acting director must have provided no guidance to the supporting actors. As a teen girl in the audience mentioned during intermissions, “when I get bored during big scenes, I just look at the crowds. They don’t seem to know what they’re doing.”
Other attendees must have shared similar sentiments as the teen girl. The RSC has three tiers of seating. These seats are set in a half-oval shape around the theatre. If one sits in the first tear, they have the ability to view both the stage and other members of the audience. Whenever the performance lulled, one could easily spot the disinterested members of the audience. These people were ready for the lengthy three-hour production of Julius Caesar to end. Aside from the ones who looked bored, there were also a handful of audience members asleep. For a production this big and for a company this prominent, there should not have been that high of a number of drowsy and bored faces. As John Heilpern wrote in Conference of the Birds, “if you want to see a show, watch the audience.” Following Heilpern’s point, a sleepy audience must account for a snore-worthy production.
Other members in the audience looked as if they were questioning why they attended this production. McGraw Hill Education wrote in the scholastic book “TheatreGoing,” “When people think about why they go to theatre, there are usually three basic reasons: entertainment, communal interaction, and personal growth.” If McGraw Hill set the standard for theatre-going, then the RSC production of Julius Caesar failed to satisfy any reason to watch it. If someone wishes to watch a production at the established Royal Shakespeare Company, they are better off to wait and see what shows are on next year’s bill.