19 APRIL 1963, Page 17


The Second Caesar

By MALCOLM RUTHERFORD Julius Caesar. (Stratford-upon- Avon.)—Skyvers. (English Stage Society.)—An Evening with Maurice Chevalier. (Saville.)—Virtue in. Danger. (Mermaid.) No production of Julius Caesar which more or less discards Mark Antony and replaces the Conventional philosopher Brutus with a man tall, gangling and simple-minded is likely to find im- mediate critical favour. And certainly John Blatchley's new production at Stratford has found hardly a single sympathetic voice. I find this sad, for though as a production it is essen- tially wrong-headed, aiming at a rigid consistency Which the text does not warrant, it is at times intelligent and perceptive and adds considerably to one's understanding of individual passages. Mr. Blatchley is all for unity. His production hangs first upon the figure of Caesar, then jointly upon the returning spirit of Caesar and the rein- carnation of Caesar with the arrival of Octavian, who unfortunately has neither the lines nor the stature to bear this out. All other characters are Played down. Mark Antony's single really relevant line is 'Mischief, thou art afoot,' and his funeral oration, delivered almost from off-stage and with his back to the audience, is quite devoid of passion. Brutus speaks often of honour, but !here is little evidence that he has much difficulty in overcoming his natural loyalty to Caesar, and While Cassius is immaculate when it comes to tactical decisions it is hard to feel that he is much of a thinker.

These departures from the norm would not Matter so much if the action were played out against a background of near-riot and repressive Legislation devised to contain the Roman mob. much is made clear in Flavius's first words: you ought not walk Upol., a labouring day without the sign Of your profession.

Mr. Blatchley ignores the implications of this in order to bring out instead a false antithesis between a gentle Flavius and a snarling Marullus, a trick as absurd as looking for vast differences of character between their cousin pair, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Through- out he sacrifices the atmosphere of an explosive Rome in order to produce a number of petty men groping about on a vast and empty stage. This is done no doubt in the interests of uni- versality. In fact it dehumanises and depoliti- cises the play entirely.

The approach is at its most ridiculous in the storm scene, where there is neither sense of storm nor any apparent understanding of the text. The scene fails in most productions, I suspect partly because it is badly written, but mainly because few people seem to understand where the fault lies. One cannot see it as anything else than an unsuccessful attempt at dramatic irony where Caesar, is clumsily identified with the heavens. The text is insistent about this to the point of tediousness, and Cicero's

men may construe things after their fashion Clean from the purpose of the things themselves. . Comes Caesar to the Capitol tomorrow?

is a straining for the kind of effect that is at its neatest in Duncan's

There's no art

To find the mind's construction in the face followed by the superbly ironic greeting to Macbeth

0 worthiest cousin!

and where it needs the entrance of Macbeth to make the point.

In a production full of thunder and lightning the clumsiness may be concealed by a little gratuitous excitement, but in one like Mr. Blatchley's, which staggers on without stage effects of any kind, one feels that the scene might be better omitted altogether.

Where then is the perception and understand- ing? Mainly, I found, in the playing of Roy Dotrice's Caesar on which the production attempts to hinge. The suggestion of physical attachment to a near-naked Antony and the pained public 'reproach to Calpurnia because of her sterility are superb. Caesar's fear of Cassius gains also from having some kind of physical motive, and Mr. Dotrice is at his best when his fever breaks out on the very words For always I am Caesar.'

I liked, too, the sort of Selwyn Lloyd approach to Brutus, not clever but respected, personally brave but without a clear understanding of what was happening, standing out for principles his policies cannot match. A particularly revealing moment is Decius Brutus's attempt to win him also to the murder of Antony, where it is made clear that most of the conspirators are villains from the start.

Even so, one must end on a note of carping. Why, when so many liberties of interpretation are taken, must Portia remain so much the con- ventional Roman matron rooted to the stage throughout most of her speeches? Is there not now room for a little more affection than duty? Cherry Morris's pointed gesture when she speaks of giving herself a voluntary wound for Brutus's love 'here in the thigh' was embarrassing at the least.

Mr. Barry Reckford's Skyvers, given a Sunday- evening performance by the English Stage Society at the Royal Court, was good enough to make one wish such productions could run at least for a week and to remind one how prefer- able they are to the Court's current choice of Naked. The subject is the leavers' form of a Lon- don comprehensive school with the conventional one boy who would stay on if only there were someone to understand him. As a script it seems to me still to need a lot of working on, and I am not entirely sure that the theatre is the most suitable medium for it, but Mr. Reckford is adept at catching the essence of a school in just five boys and a couple of masters, and he has written some beautifully authentic dialogue.

For a limited season Maurice Chevalier is pre- senting a pleasant enough evening of French rub- bish at the Saville, though the spectacle of a man of seventy-five twisting raises feelings more of pain and embarrassment than of wonder and de- light. And for the Easter holidays no virtue will be in danger at the Mermaid where Paul Dehn

has taken all the elegance and bite out of Vanbrugh's The Relapse and replaced them with a string of the most obvious obscenities over-

played by a succession of shuffling, shouting pantomime dames. Occasionally one would find

it funny if the actors didn't signal the jokes before and after they arrive, and there is a mild pleasure in spotting which musicals the songs call to mind.