Blood simple

7th June 1996 at 01:00
Peter Hall's production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (Royal Shakespeare Company, Barbican, London) emphasises the enormous power of the Roman state and of its ruler. Massive statues and solemn ceremonial frame the civil and military upheavals which result in a political world more lacking in humanity after the loss of Brutus than during the ascendancy of Caesar.

Blood is copiously spilt (even the programme is splashed with gouts of it); Caesar's white toga is drenched in red on the steps of the Capitol and his symbolic stone face drips gore during the Battle of Philippi. Yet despite excellent things in this swift-moving production, there is, nevertheless, something too restrained about it.

John Nettles' Brutus is solidly sincere, Julian Glover's well-spoken Cassius convincingly bitter and Hugh Quarshie's Antony manipulative to the extent of smiling in satisfaction at his success in swaying the plebs. The brutal murder of Cinna the poet is an ignoble, unritualistic killing, whose staging on the Capitol steps echoes Caesar's sacrifice and makes the point that murder is murder, in whatever guise.

With so much that is well thought out, perhaps the trouble is the crowd. Tension drops when the well-drilled but insufficiently vocal extras, genuine "citizens of London", swarm with numerical strength, but add up to less than the sum of their parts as the Roman rabble.

School parties should take special note of the length - two and a half hours - and the lack of an interval.

Tickets: 0171 638 8891

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