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Review: Blood and audience gasps in Julius Caesar, Barbican Theatre

Julius Caesar_ 2017_ the conspirators kill Caesar_2017_Photo by Helen Maybanks _c_ RSC_214266
RSC's Julius Caesar 2017: Photo by Helen Maybanks (c) RSC

Bloody Julius Caesar. Not only does he gets ideas above his station and meet with a messy end but his murderers decide to wear his blood like a face mask, as if they weren't smeared and splattered enough. 

However, it wasn't the sight of the red stuff in this RSC production that earned a collective gasp from the audience it was another death, bloodless but with a realistic snapping sound effect that had more than a few hands over mouths.

Who met with this end? Well that was, I suspect, a big contributing factor in the response but I won't spoil it.

Julius Caesar is a brutal play not just in the violence but in the questions of loyalty and justice.

The writing is on the wall in the opening scene where a celebratory mob are criticised for their fickleness having changed allegiance to Julius Caesar when he is victorious.

Brutus (Alex Waldmann) has the people behind him after his rational speech explaining the reasons for the murder but it is Mark Antony (James Corrigan) who really knows how to work the crowd.

Julius Caesar_ 2017_ Mark Antony and Brutus_2017_Photo by Helen Maybanks _c_ RSC_214285 James Corrigan Alex Waldmann
James Corrigan and Alex Waldmann in Julius Caesar 2017. Photo by Helen Maybanks (c) RSC

It is a speech that mixes emotion and design. When James McAvoy performed the same speech it felt like grief was pouring out of him. 

James Corrigan's Mark Antony is distinctly more calculating. After reading Julius Caesar's will he shows a blank piece of paper and then tears it up as if he's made it up to support his cause. 

While Brutus wrestles with honour and is spooked by Julius Caesar's ghost, his authority and leadership slips away from him. Meanwhile, the seemingly gently loyal Mark Antony has become a hard-edged leader.

Julius Caesar was not the only person who should have heeded the warning "Beware the Ides of March".

It is a production of violent energy and raw emotions but it is James Corrigan's intriguing Mark Antony which sticks in my mind. That and the gasp.

You can see it at the Barbican until January 20, it's about three hours including an interval and I'm giving it four stars.