Julius Caesar

Wednesday 10th to Saturday 20th June 2009 (11 performances)

Studio Theatre, 41 Monkgate 

Charles Hutchinson in the The Press wrote:

SHAKESPEARE’S power play will always resonate with the political times.

Latterly the theme of toppling a dictator for the greater good of the people has had its parallel in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, while the issue of trust in our leaders is topical anew, given both the expenses debacle in Westminster and the stymied revolt against Gordon Brown.

Directing a York Shakespeare Project production for the first time, former University of York masters degree student Mark Smith does not make a direct link between Roman times and today’s political machinations. Togas and leggings are the dress code and swords the weapon of choice, in contrast to the suits, mobile phones and crackle of gunfire of David Farr’s modish touring show for the Royal Shakespeare Company at Northallerton five years ago.

Smith lets the modern context emerge naturally rather than forcing anything extraneous on to Shakespeare’s psychological thriller, while also calling upon the supernatural and the natural elements (the thunderstorm) to play their timeless part. His press release made reference to giving a ‘thrilling modern edge’ to Shakespeare’s study of ambition, misguided idealism and murder. In truth, from costume design to heavy-weighted delivery of the dialogue, from shadow-play to close-quarter combat, his Julius Caesar is rather more old-fashioned than that. Only the storm scene, with its imagery of speeding clouds, is served by today’s technology.

The focus is on the text, all that plotting, argument, intrigue and persuasion, as a faction of Rome’s elite resolve to depose the ageing Caesar (a venerable Robin Sangar) before he declares himself king. Smith and his designer, Ele Slade, choose to match the stifling atmosphere by cramping the actors into a thin strip in front of metallic-coloured screens on wheels. This leads to a flat, linear presentation, and to declamatory acting, sometimes facing away from the audience, until the screens are pulled away at last for Caesar’ moment of crowning glory, cut short by his assassins.

Maurice Crichton, making his first stage appearance since his schooldays more than 20 years ago, is prone to dipping his head too much but his Brutus has weight, intelligence, honour and humanity, and Crichton will surely return for more YSP shows. Robbie Swale’s Mark Antony is the stand-out principal, the set-piece speeches performed with passion, modulation and conviction, his movement and sense of purpose assured. Elaine Innes’s Calphurnia is the pick of the female performances while Ben Lund’s Lucius shows plenty of youthful promise.

In conclusion, Smith’s Julius Caesar, the 15th YSP community production, is robust and slow-burning rather than exciting or dangerous, its dogs of war muzzled.

See also:

Daniel Gibbons’ review in The Yorker.

Jonathan Kerridge-Phipps’ review on Nouse.co.uk


Flavius, a Tribune Mark Burghagen
Murellus, a Tribune Josh Littlewood
A Cobbler Alan Flower
A Carpenter John Hasselgreen
Julius Caesar Robin Sanger
Calphurnia, his wife Elaine Innes
A Soothsayer Margaret Hillier
Marcus Brutus Maurice Crichton
Portia, his wife Jenny Carr
Lucius, his servant Ben Lund
Mark Antony Robbie Swale
Caius Cassius Dermot Hill
Caska Ged Murray
Trebonius Tom Straszewski
Decius Brutus Ben Sawyer
Metellus Cimber Brian Sharp
Cinna Matt Simpson
Popilius Lena Christopher Laishley
Lepidus John Hasselgreen
Cicero Jeremy Muldowney
Publius Neil Forster
Servant to Caesar Krystal Evans
Servant to Antony Esme Kaim
Servant to Octavius Jane Collis
Artimedorus Alan Flower
Plebeians Julia Atkinson and members of the cast
Cinna, the Poet Neil Forster
Octavius Caesar Christopher Laishley
Lucilius Ben Sawyer
Messala Brian Sharp
Varrus Matt Simpson
Young Cato Josh Littlewood
Strato Alan Flower
Volumnius John Hasselgreen
Dardanius Gareth Lewis
Clitus Tom Straszewski
Pindarus, Cassius’ bondman Neil Forster
Titinius, an Officer in Cassius’s army Mark Burghagen
A Poet Jeremy Muldowney
A messenger Jane Collis


Director Mark Smith
Designer Ele Slade
Producer Lynsey Cullen
Lighting Fran Olley, Charlie Taylor,
with thanks to Fergus McGlynn
Sound Mark Smith, Ben Jacobson
Set Construction Jamie Searle, Lee Maloney, Ben Jacobson
Costume Ele Slade, Sally Mitcham, Jane Collis
Stage Manager Rosalind Campbell
Assistant Stage Managers Krystal Evans, Andy Love
Textual Advisor Julia Atkinson
Fight Choreography Paul Toy
Publicity and Programme Brian Sharp, Susie Murray
Front of House Sally Mitcham, Christina Nobbs, Janet Looker, Anna Sharp, Raymond Baggaley