Having seen the production of Deborah Warner’s Julius Caesar to which Michael Billington refers here, I have some sympathy with the notion that ‘modern dress’ in Shakespeare production does not necessarily clarify for a current audience the political, or indeed the emotional, stakes and relationships encoded within a 400-year-old play. Warner’s was an excitingly staged, powerfully acted and very well-received production of Julius Caesar, in which around one hundred supernumeraries, taken partly from each of the local communities in which the production played (London, Paris, Madrid, Luxembourg), performed as the plebeian crowd. A scene of postmodern political and aesthetic fragmentation was created from truncated classical columns, surrounded by police incident tape and backed by perspex gates and a bright yellow backdrop. Politicians in suits ‘pricked down’ those who were to die on their laptops. The Iraq War was clearly referenced via desert fatigues in the second half of the production and through photographs in the British programme. In the second half, Cassius (Simon Russell Beale) wore suit trousers and a cardigan to confront Brutus (Anton Lesser) in his camouflage gear. It was as if, despite the pair’s spat over who was the better soldier (4.3), Russell Beale’s Cassius was not a solider at all but a modern politician who sent men to war but played no risky physical part in it himself.
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