Julius Caesar

Article excerpt

Byline: Quentin Letts first night review

Stratford-upon-Avon

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TELEVISION news reporters, when covering coups in Africa, sometimes struggle for adjectives to capture the brutality. Perhaps 'Shakespearean' would do.

Director Gregory Doran sets this production of Julius Caesar in sub-Saharan Africa. An innocent poet, misidentified by a politically fired mob, is killed by a tyre-and-petrol 'necklace', once a favoured method of Winnie Mandela's friends in Soweto.

Brutus's young servant Lucius (Simon Manyonda) becomes a boy soldier, as seen in the badlands of Rwanda. Caesar himself (an interestingly ambiguous turn from Jeffery Kissoon, part imperious, part voracious for popular support), carries a fancy fly whisk, just as Jomo Kenyatta did.

Mr Doran is not the first to set Shakespeare in the continent. For instance, there was a superb Macbeth in London a few years ago which was played like a Congo war story.

If this 'JC' does not quite match that, it may be because the verse speaking is often indistinct and rushed, the whole enterprise becoming perhaps 10 per cent too frenzied. But the concept itself is pretty neat and thoroughly believable.

The plotters of Rome wore togas. Here they are in the sort of robes sometimes worn by President Jacob Zuma - though I hope the similarities end there.

The streets of Rome are patrolled by sjambok-wielding policemen who keep the populus (with its 'chapped hands' and 'stinking breath') just about under control. …