Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0456. Tuesday, 18 June 1996.
Date: Monday, 17 Jun 96 12:27:00 EDT
Subject: RSC Reviews
I just returned from London, where I saw two RSC productions: _Julius Caesar_
at the Barbican and _Macbeth_ at the RST in Stratford. In case anyone is
thinking of going to either of these, or is simply curious about them, I'll
offer capsule reviews. The _Caesar_ was thoroughly disappointing, I'm afraid.
I was worried about the quality of the production when I noticed that the
publicity--both text and pictures--put a lot of emphasis on the bloodshed, and
my fears were well-founded. Peter Hall chose to highlight the horrific: lots
of blood jetting out from Caesar's toga and from some surprising places in the
set; ominous thunder-claps everytime someone is killed (an effect that quickly
became tiresome). All of this might have been all right if it had not been the
only ruling idea in the production, but aside from these rather lame attempts
at atmospherics, this _Caesar_ was almost completely lacking in point of view.
The neither-here-nor-there quality in the interpretation didn't surprise me
much (Hall has sometimes been criticised for this in the past) but the
generally low level of the acting was a shock: lots of quavering intonations
and verbal "tricks" generally superseded meaning and emotional grounding. John
Nettles, as Brutus, was perhaps most guilty of this, peppering his verse with
strange pauses and abrupt shifts in volume which seemed to come from nowhere
and then vanish as abruptly. Hugh Quarshy's Mark Antony seemed to be a work
still in progress, as he vacillated between fiery, comitted patriot and
cackling, Iago-like manipulator. Perhaps the low point in acting and directing
concerned Hall's use of the crowds. Opting neither for naturalistic crowd
scenes (i.e. dividing up some of the lines ascribed to "ALL" and allowing some
ad-libbing) or more stylized treatment (formalizing the speaking in unison and
the movement), Hall chose the middle ground, attempting to make the unison
sound natural, and the effect was quite comic. I'll end with some plaudits:
Julian Glover's Cassius was wonderful--focussed, driven, grounded--as was the
Casca (I've forgotten the actor's name). And if there was one "Hallmark" in
evidence in this play, it was the speed of the production: astonishing scene
changes (John Gunter) usually took place in less than a second, with actors
moving from the last word in one scene to the first word in the next without
missing a beat--very exciting.
Far more satisfying was Tim Albery's _Macbeth_. Though the horror in this
text certainly seems more overt than that in _Caesar_, this was by far the more
restrained of the two. Seeming to take place in a kind of Prussian
operating-room, this was the coldest, most formal _Macbeth_ I have ever seen.
I found, however, that the horror seemed to grow by being understated and
internalized. The acting was solid all the way around, with Roger Allam and
Brid Brennan as the Macbeths particularly impressive. Brid Brennan did start
on a rather high pitch (just once I would like to see a Lady M. invoking the
help of the spirits because she really _needs_ it--most seem to walk on already
endowed with all of the strength and cruelty they could possibly need) but she
managed to go on to find other levels as the play progressed. Anyway, I
promised _capsule_ reviews, so I'll cut this short. I'm interested to know if
anyone agrees or disagrees with these observations.