“Caesar could be Amin or Bokassa, Mobutu or Mugabe”

13 Sep

Out of Africa review with interview of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s latest production of “Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare

Directed by Gregory Doran

Tours the UK from 19th September – 27th October 2012


“A muscular, intelligent and deeply moving production”
, Sunday Times


Last night we caught the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Julius Caesar, set in the context of an unspecified pre-coup African nation.

I found this a thoroughly compelling production; the robust acting, the African context and the pace of the direction really brought out the emotional transitions of Shakespeare’s characters and allowed the audience to really understand the agony behind Shakespeare’s text.

Watching Shakespeare can be exhausting for the ear, however these actors presented the meaning of each word with such purpose that Shakespeare’s messages were not just understood, but could be related to. And interestingly, at times, the old English language flowed like a type of pidgin English, which sat comfortably in the African context.

Julius Caesar is a fast-moving thriller about a struggle for democracy.  Setting it in an unspecified African nation and exploring the implications of political assassination and the unpredictably of its aftermath has so much resonance with recent overthrows of dictators over Africa’s 60 year history and more recently the uprising in the ‘Arab Spring’.

Director Gregory Doran says “Caesar could be Amin or Bokassa, Mobutu or Mugabe”.

Director Gregory Doran goes on to say that his inspiration for setting Julius Caesar in an unspecified African country came from discoverings the Robben Island Shakespeare and learning of Nelson Mandela asserting that the play spoke in a particular way to his continent and as John Kani clearly puts it, Julius Caesar is quite simply “Shakespeare’s Africa play”.

Out of Africa Interview with Gbolahan Obisesan, Associate Director

After the show we spoke to the associate director, Gbolahan Obisesan, about the motivations behind the production, the challenges and the aspirations.

What are some of the key themes you would like people to take away from watching this play?

Initially, it would be the ideas Caesar has on how to run a society, a state, a country – and the decisions that have to made to achieve this. Then it is the consequences of having a dictator, of overthrowing a dictator – what is the new regime going to be, what does it represent and how will it serve the people?
It’s about the real conundrum that these decisions bring out.  Accepting the full extent of one’s actions.

What has been the biggest challenge in putting this play together?

The casting – who do you cast to play these really iconic roles – and thinking conscientiously about the interpretation of the Shakespeare text and if the context we have chosen serves the piece all the way through.

What are some of the unique aspects of your interpretation of this play?

What the text can say to us if it is set in an (unspecified) African country and presented by an all Black cast. This uniqueness opens new insights and is not just tokenistic.

When you think about this production and you smile, what are you thinking about?

The moment when the audience gets lost, moved and overwhelmed by the story and the level of emotion that the cast go through is thrilling.

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