Noel Coward Theatre, London August 8-September 15
Aylesbury Waterside Theatre 19 – 22 September
Bradford Alhambra Theatre 25 – 29 September
The Lowry, Salford 2 - 6 October
Norwich Theatre Royal 16 – 20 October
New Theatre, Cardiff 23 – 27 October
The Moscow Arts Theatre, Russia 14 - 17 November
By: William Shakespeare
Composer: Akintayo Akinbode
Management: Royal Shakespeare Company
Cast: Segun Akingbola, Mark Ebulue, Ricky Fearon, Andrew French, Marcus Griffiths, Ivanno Jeremiah, Samantha Lawson, Simon Manyonda, Joseph Mydell, Ann Ogbomo, Theo Ogundipe, Jude Owusu, Mark Theodore, Ewart James Walters, Chinna Wodu
Director: Gregory Doran
Design: Michael Vale
Shakespeare plays require big casts, making them expensive to produce, so you have to sell a lot of tickets. In order to sell a lot of tickets you have to get great reviews. In order to do this you need a gimmick that will please the jaded pallets of the critics, so there's been a slew of recent productions aimed at making headlines rather than serving the play. Fortunately this is a high concept production that is also very strong on storytelling and character and makes Shakespeare the star rather than the director’s ego or celebrity casting.
Director Greg Doran has set his interpretation of Shakespeare's Roman history in a modern day African country, in which perilous regimes rise and topple like the statues of each new dictator. I fear its take on African politics and accents must be very generalised, but I'm no expert and it certainly makes perfect sense as a substitute for ancient Rome where the all-powerful Caesar is assassinated by rebels, who in turn become intoxicated by power.
Amongst an all-black cast Jeffrey Kisson is extremely charismatic as the doomed emperor, Paterson Joseph gives the assassin Brutus a wonder world-weary sense of humour and the magnificently handsome Ray Fearon brings an unusual layer of cynical calculation to Mark Anthony.
real achievement here is that the second half, which is usually a
tedious succession of battles, had been reshaped to make it as gripping a
political thriller as the first. The language of course is delicious;
you'll be amazed how many of the lines have slipped into everyday usage.
This is Shakespeare, so you'll need to be in the mood to concentrate and
reading up on the plot beforehand maybe a good idea if it’s new to you,
but this is a Rolls Royce production and it's a privilege to have
experienced this writer, this director and these actors at the top of
their game. Highly recommended.
VERDICT: **** (Four Stars) A superb re-imaging of Shakespeare’s Rome in a troubled African state.
Photos by Kwame Lestrade