Monday 7 July 2014

Julius Caesar - Globe July 2014

George Irving as Julius Caesar in Shakespeare's Globe production Credit Manuel Harlan
George Irving as Julius Caesar
Credit Manuel Harlan
Claire van Kampen; new score for Julius Caesar; Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
Reviewed by Jill Barlow on Jul 2 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Music so robust & noisy - even before play starts - Drunken sounds of re-enactment of Roman Feast of Lupercalia in foyer as prelude to play on stage

The music for the Globe's new production of Julius Caesar (press night 2 July 2014) was robust and noisy even before Shakespeare's immortal play opened on stage. As one approached the Globe precincts, a rowdy prelude was being enacted in the foyer, representing the feast of Lupercalia, complete with loud drums and bawdy shouts, which historically it is said, accompanied Caesar's return to Rome in triumph having won his battles over Pompey.

On stage the play opens with trumpets from the centre of Musicians' Gallery above the stage ominously tempered by a discordant note to the right, which I am informed by Globe Music department, was made using 'a long trumpet, played with particular effect, - a brass instrument of the period'.

Charles Spencer writes of this production in the Daily Telegraph July 4:- 'staged in Elizabethan dress, with Roman trimmings, with music played on period instruments that make a speciality of fruity, fart like noises---'.

Catherine Bailey as Portia in Dominic Dromgoole's 2014 production of Julius Caesar
Catherine Bailey as Portia

Soon the plot thickens as a soothsayer appears warning Caesar: 'beware the Ides of March.' - a date imminent on the Roman Calendar. A stormy night, full of grim portents and bad omens follows, complete with strange atmospheric sounds, from above the Musicians gallery produced I am reliably informed by use of the Globe's metal 'thunder sheet' stretching up quite a way, 'amongst other sound effects', including one could hear big crashes of portentous import and as the bard himself describes it, 'strange impatience of the heavens' - a night full of unnatural events, indeed.

Julius Caesar himself (the silver haired George Irving) was played paradoxically with quiet voice and gentle demeanour, hardly really the pretentious, ambitious would-be 'despot' a set of Roman senatorial conspirators would need to assassinate, but they plotted to, with great vigour, and eventually carried out the deadly deed with cold blooded precision, and on stage too before our very eyes - which is how Shakespeare came to give us the play. 'Et Tu Brute' I well remember from my A level Shakespeare studies many moons ago, and also the subsequent speech from Mark Anthony (here played by Luke Thompson with due fervour ) we all had to memorise :-

'Friends Romans and countrymen, lend me your ears. I come to bury Caesar not to praise him' – whereupon he proceeds nevertheless to whip the attentive crowd into a frenzy of revenge against Cassius, Brutus et alia(notably played by seemingly youngish actors) Claire van Kampen's sumptuous new score for the play gave us much variety - everything from soft cymbals and gongs backstage , by way of contrast to the 'thunder sheet' on the night prior to Caesar's bloody assassination, to sweet sound of wind ensembles with lute, from the Musicians gallery even as Brutus, (played by Tom McKay) Caesar's trusted friend, eventually concludes with the conspirators 'it must be by his death'. Immediately following the assassination on stage, solemnly robed women in cowells appear in the Musicians gallery to intone in dirge-like mode, in latin. Other mournful , funereal music ensues to fit the scene of Caesar's body lying bloodied on stage, with a crescendo of drums to herald Brutus' speech from the podium.

Tom McKay as Brutus in Dominic Dromgoole's 2014 production of Julius Caesar
Tom McKay as Brutus
There is later an evocative solo with lovely lute accompaniment by Lucius, to set the scene for Caesar's Ghost to appear to Brutus during the aftermath preparations for war. Caesar says ominously :'thou shall see me at Philippi'. And as they say –the rest is history with both Brutus and Cassius fated to meet their own deaths too , as a bizarre adjunct to the battle scenes. In the music to match the battle come marches , accompanied by drums, and bugle calls, with at one point near the end of the play, an acceleration of drums as soldiers charge across the stage and lunge in battle mode.

'It's almost as if Claire van Kampen is trying to rival the music for Titus Andronicus - this year', as I heard from a source close to the Globe. - Now that would never do --- (see Django Bates music for Titus Andronicus returned to the Globe this Season –after premiering here in 2006-Shakespeare's most gory play).

Julius Caesar was directed by Dominic Dromgoole
With Design by Jonathan Fensom 
Reviewed by Jill Barlow
(c) Jill Barlow, 5 July 2014
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