Timely African Twist on Familiar Tale; THEATRE JULIUS CAESAR RST, Stratford-upon-Avon

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Byline: FIONA MOUNTFORDs

THE recent announcement of Gregory Doran as the RSC's new artistic director was met with nigh-on universal acclaim, and it is supple, intelligently thoughtout productions like this that demonstrate why he was such a fine choice. Doran has taken the play that the RSC appears contractually obliged to stage every five minutes, ripped out the interval and plunged the piece into the febrile world of contemporary African politics. Despots being toppled and new tyrants taking their place: it all fits most felicitously with the continent of Amin and Mugabe. Crucially, though, Doran isn't just a man for the big gesture. Sure, the setting is bold -- and it reminds us how unusual it still is to see an all-black cast -- but it's filled with precisionworked individual details. Take Lucius (Simon Manyonda), for example. The tiny part of Brutus's "boy" servant almost always passes unremarked, but this time Lucius traces a telling arc, from an amiable shorts-wearing youth with too much time on his hands, to a child soldier in yet another of Africa's seemingly interminable civil wars.

A lively community chorus provides a vibrant and colourful mob to be manipulated at will by Rome's great orators, as they declaim on a set backed by a monumental Socialist Realist-style statue of a toga-clad dictator. …