By Adam King
A taste of Julius
You can view some clips of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s acclaimed play Julius Caesar at rsc.org.uk. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. May 1, 8 p.m. May 2-4 and 2 p.m. May 5 at the Southern Theatre. Tickets are $38-$68 at the CAPA Ticket Center (39 E. State St.), all Ticketmaster outlets and ticketmaster.com. To purchase by phone, call 469-0939 or (800) 745-3000. Young people age 13-25 may purchase $5 PNC Arts Alive All Access tickets; visit GoFor5.com for details.
The Royal Shakespeare Company took a chance, reimagining its current production of Julius Caesar around an all-black cast and resetting the play’s location to modern post-colonial West Africa.
The accolades Julius Caesar has received on its current tour, which arrives at the Southern Theatre in Columbus May 1-5 as part of the RSC’s collaboration with Ohio State, builds a case for taking chances.
Of course there are some standard expectations with any Royal Shakespeare Company performance: Attention to detail, the actors’ speaking clarity and making Shakespeare accessible to everyone.
By adding the African twist under new artistic director Gregory Doran, the RSC has shown it is willing to contemporize a classic so the audience might contemplate the play’s underlying themes in today’s terms.
This Julius Caesar, Doran has said, could easily be the repetitive story of Africa’s dictators — the rise to power, the consolidation of that power, the coups that create a power vacuum and inevitable question for each nation: What’s next?
Catherine Mallyon, who was named the RSC’s executive director in the fall, said she never tires of seeing the performance, which toured England and Russia and will open in New York this month before arriving in Columbus.
“I think you get a real understanding of the story, of the impact of power on people and how people behave in that way and what happens after Caesar has been killed and how the community deals with that,” Mallyon said. “The audience will enjoy looking at the production and the speaking roles but go away thinking about the perspective on our times now. If you choose not to do that in the moment of the two hours, it’s a striking production and we think it represents the best of the RSC.”
The RSC is considered a cultural icon in the United Kingdom with its home at Stratford-Upon-Avon, William Shakespeare’s birthplace and resting place. It is there where each production comes to life — where actors rehearse their lines to impeccable perfection, where stage sets are designed and built, the colorful costumes are sewn and the armor is hammered and honed.
“We try to have a real depth of inquiry about our work, and a lot of work has gone into it and checking it from a production standpoint,” Mallyon said. “I hope that will be reinforced when an audience sees a production.”
Julius Caesar is stopping in Columbus because Ohio State and the RSC signed a new agreement that grants the university formal sponsorship of the theater company’s American tour stops for the next three years. The university also signed a renewal agreement that expands upon RSC’s educational component, “Stand up for Shakespeare,” where teachers are trained to effectively use Shakespeare in the classroom to increase student engagement and learning. And the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts is partnering with the university to produce the Julius Caesar tour in the United States with stops at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York and at the Southern Theatre in Columbus.
The RSC also has an online training package that is available in the UK, “Teaching Shakespeare,” and Mallyon said there are ongoing discussions with Ohio State to make that available through the university. The training, developed with Warwick University, includes hours of interviews with actors and teaching professionals.
“I understand Ohio State’s standing in the state, and especially educationally, for training the teachers, and it’s great to be part of the aspiration to develop the teaching and the research and performance of Shakespeare,” Mallyon said. “The two-way flow of our teams and your educationalists working on projects is beneficial both ways around.”