Did anyone see ‘Julius Caesar’ on Sunday night, with an all-black cast? It was sensational. The acting was brilliant, but what really made it special, was that the play had been set in a modern African state. It worked astonishingly well.
I’ve since read up a bit on the background, and was intrigued to discover that Shakespeare’s plays did the rounds of the Robben Island prisoners. Nelson Mandela made many notes in the margins of this play, and it is considered to be Shakespeare’s ‘African’ play. The struggle for independence, and the events of the ‘Arab Spring’, all played into the production.
I loved the authenticity of the African body-language and the African English. It brought a whole new dimension to the play. The soothsayer was powdered in white, like an African medicine man – very powerful. It was partly set in an abandoned underground shopping centre, which looked so much like so many run-down places in a struggling state that it was entirely credible. The assassination of Caesar even takes place on an escalator which isn’t working – normal in a country subject to constant electricity cuts…
The only thing that struck a false note was the music and dancing in the opening scene, which were more Caribbean than African.
I sometimes fight shy of innovative productions – they don’t always bring anything new to the plays and can detract from them. But with this treatment, the play sprang into new and vivid life. I could watch it all again.