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Passion reined in

JULIUS CAESAR. Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Stratford-upon-Avon.

Peter Hall is famed for his insistence that a Shakespeare play is essentially to be heard. But this production is a curious hybrid of clear speaking and the trappings and spectacle of grand opera.

Ominous music frequently underscores the language. Each climactic moment is accompanied by a deafening crash of thunder. The monumental, timeless setting makes Rome a towering expanse of black metal with occasional gigantic props: a golden lion, a drooping wing, a predatory claw. An immense head of Caesar broods over the action and at Philippi cascades torrents of blood.

These colossal visual symbols mirror Hall's emphasis on the rhetorical, stoical and formal aspects of the play. As a result, political and military affairs seem subordinate to a static declamatory style. Passion is kept tightly under control, most evidently in the potentially embarrassing decision to use Stratford citizens in the Forum scene. There has surely never been such a passive and disciplined mob. They shout their few words in unconvincing unison.

But the formality and the clarity of the voices yields a fascinating insight into image-making. Even in their most private moments these Romans address each other like a public meeting.

Tickets: 01789 295683. Runs 2 hrs 20 mins.

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