Whether it’s down to a post-pandemic budget squeeze or the desire to freshen up a formula, the Globe has changed its touring policy for 2022. Instead of one company taking a rep of three shows out on the road, this year it’s just the one: ‘Julius Caesar’, a comparatively lesser-spotted Shakespeare play on Britain’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’-heavy outdoor summer stages.
A single play also means that Diane Page’s production gets a lot more attention for its between tour dates run at the Globe, with a national press night and everything.
Inevitably you need to be slightly indulgent of a show built to tour: with a cast of just eight tackling innumerable roles and not much in the way of a set budget, ‘Caesar’ is a much more stripped-down affair than anything else you’ll see here this season.
Nonetheless: Page makes the most of what she has, and directs a really barrelling first half that entertains from the off, when cast member Omar Bynon – taking on the role of a sort of miscellaneous member of the hoi polloi – leads the audience in a rousing chant of ‘Pompey is a wasteman!’ (Pompey being a freshly-crushed enemy of Caesar’s).
What’s most interesting about the wider casting is the gender assigned to the characters in Page’s modern-dress production: the conspirators are female-led, with pronouns explicitly changed. Anna Crichlow’s guileless Brutus and Charlotte Bate’s bookish, nervy Cassius stand in stark contrast to the blokes: Dickon Tyrrell’s self-regarding Caesar and Samuel Oatley’s boorish yesman Mark Antony. It feels deliberate: the men are power-hungry chancers, the women are actually concerned about the ethics of Caesar gathering power to himself and what it means for the Republic. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s making actual comment on gender roles in the workplace – the conspirators do in fact stab Caesar to death – but it’s a neat contrast that heightens the moral ambiguity of the situation.
The second half is less focussed, as the play moves from political thriller to full-on war drama, something the small cast struggle to depict so lucidly. Also the gender divide that helped clarify the difference between the laddish, amoral Mark Antony and the morally tortured conspirators feels potentially a bit problematic here, given Brutus and Cassius do both slightly hysterically kill themselves.
Still, it’s an entertaining ‘Caesar’ that turns a relative lack of resources to its advantage, especially in the clean, uncluttered storytelling of the first half. It’s gutsy to make the year’s only touring show something different, but despite some hurdles a minimalist version of this play was always going to struggle crossing, the good news is that it's basically worked. And for that this show deserves respect.