Setplay;Arts;Theatre

11th June 1999 at 01:00
ROMANS REJOICE! Julius Caesar. Shakespeare's Globe, London

The audience always has an important role at the Globe, its relationship to the action on stage being more direct and intimate than is possible in a darkened theatre.

In Mark Rylance's production of Julius Caesar, the groundlings are recruited to stand in for the citizens of Rome, out for a good time at the feast of Lupercal, persuaded by Brutus's logic and then swayed against him by Antony's rhetoric. This is a risky ploy; the actors "planted" among them in informal 20th-century dress may incite a riot or, alternatively, may elicit no response at all.

On the press night, the "citizens", many of them students, were just too well-behaved - and Antony had to work very hard to move them to react and join in the demands to see Caesar's will.

If Antony (Mark Lewis Jones) and Brutus (Danny Sapani) sometimes seemed somewhat under-powered in the circumstances, there is still much to enjoy in this "authentic" production, not least Richard Bremmer's sharp and sinewy Cassius.

Costume is Elizabethan doublet and hose, with token togas slung over them for the murder of Caesar and armour for battle. There is little if any visual evidence for this, but there are various hints in the text. The brutal murder of Cinna the poet has enormous impact, being perpetrated by actors, dressed in jeans and baseball caps, emerging from the crowd.

Young men play the two female roles, Portia and Calpurnia, convincingly, with Toby Cockerell doubling as Brutus's wife and the young Octavius.

It is 400 years since the first Globe opened its doors and the inaugural production may have been Julius Caesar. In September 1599, the traveller Thomas Platter reported that he saw a cast of only 15 perform the play (hence the assumption that the original audience, in the "modern" dress of the time, provided the citizenry) and that it ended with a jig.

Platter very much enjoyed the play's ending - and so does the modern audience, when they are treated to a spirited jig performed by the entire cast.

HEATHER NEILL

For further information and to book tickets, tel: 0171 401 9919, fax: 0171 902 1475

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