Today’s ten Julius Caesar thoughts

2nd June 2012

Apologies (and how familiar is this) for the lack of posts. We have been preparing the final part of the filming of the RSC’s new Julius Caesar, which we are doing this weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre. I’ll try to draw together here a bunch – well, ten, or nearly so – of bits and pieces about the production, with additional links and suggestions. And let’s start with my sense of how extraordinarily disconcerting it was to watch the first stage preview in Stratford on Monday…

1. Julius Caesar previews started in Stratford on Monday of this week, and run through to the press night next Wednesday (you can buy tickets here). This is the time when cast and crew fine-tune a production, and after each performance director Greg Doran gives detailed notes and makes small changes, adding or taking away a music cue, adjusting a lighting state, shifting an actor’s emphasis. From the film crew director of photography Steve Lawes, editor Trevor Waite and I came up to Stratford on Monday to watch, in the afternoon, the second dress rehearsal, and then the first preview with a paying public that evening.

I don’t think that I have previously watched a show first without an audience and then immediately with one (and it was almost a full house on Monday). I know I should not have been surprised at this, but the difference second time around was extraordinary, with the performances sharper, brighter, with far more energy and conviction. But my other take-away from the experience was just how strange it was to see acted on stage scenes that we have lived with on screen.

It is nearly a month since we left the unloved location of Oriental City, and Trevor Waite has fashioned an exceptional 125-minute cut of all of the sequences that we shot there (essentially everything apart from the opening and the Forum scene). I have seen this over and over, becoming familiar with every detail, and contributing to a discussion about what to cut and what to tweak. Now in the theatre I was seeing the scenes played out in a completely different context – and some of them were really quite distinct!

The (wonderful) exchange between Brutus and Portia (Adjoa Andoh), for example, is played very close and claustrophobic in the film, and it is – imho – intensely moving. On stage, after something over a fortnight’s further work, it has become bigger (unsurprisingly, perhaps) but also more flirtatious and more external. Which makes for a fascinating contrast – and truly neither is better than the other. The playing is simply different – and to see the stage version, when you are so used to watching it on screen, takes some adjustment.

The opportunity for everyone to see the stage and the film version more or less at the same time is one of the unique things about this initiative – I do not know of any previous occasion when an interested viewer would have been able to go to the theatre one night and then the next watch a film version drawn from the stage production.

2. One of the earliest press reports of the stage production (with a mention of the film) is a terrific interview for the Telegraph by Serena Davies with director Greg Doran and Paterson Joseph, who plays Brutus, ‘Julius Caesar with a little help from Idi Amin and Mugabe’.

3. The RSC has posted lots and lots of great Julius Caesar stage production photographs by Kwame Lestrade.

4. I have just watched a 1960 television production of Julius Caesar made for BBC Schools – and blogged about it at Screen Plays. Producer Ronald Eyre used a modern setting and drew a compelling performance as Cassius from John Laurie, best known as Private Frazer in Dad’s Army. I’m only sorry that, at present, the recording remains locked away in the archives.

5. Andrew French, who plays Decius Brutus and Titinius in the film and (of course) on stage is contributing occasional – and stimulating – blog posts to the RSC site, including ‘Adversity and Anger’ (23 May) and ‘Death – not as painful as you think’ (11 May), which features his reflections on the filming.

6. The Italian production of Julius Caesar that played in the Globe to Globe season is now up on The Space.

7. At Screen Plays I have been blogging other Julius Caesars as well, including a 1964 outside broadcast of Michael Croft’s notorious ‘teddy boy’ staging with the National Youth Theatre, and an ambitious BBC studio production shown live in 1959. Screen Plays, incidentally, marked the end of its first year as a research project this week.

8. ‘Black Actor White Script’: a very interesting contribution to The Huffington Post by David McAlmont reflecting on ‘all Black’ casting, with thoughts from Cyril Nri, who plays Cassius in the RSC Julius Caesar.

9. From the start of production on the screen version, we always envisaged that we would try to combine two elements of filming. Most of the play we would shoot with a single camera on location in a contemporary television drama style. This is how we made Hamlet three years ago and Macbeth just after that. But the BBC’s wish to arrange transmission early this summer meant that with Julius Caesar we could not do this after the stage production was established.

Also, Greg was very interested in exploring the idea of filming the ‘public’ scenes of the play, those with the Roman mob as a major character, in the theatre. In the opening and in the great Forum scene, the text plays with the idea of the crowd on stage and the crowd seated in the theatre as one. As paying spectators, we are being appealed to, like the Roman people, first by Brutus and then by Mark Antony. So it seemed intriguing to see if we could combine some theatre shooting with our location sequences. We still have no idea of whether this will work, but it is why we are in Stratford this weekend.

With the filming of the theatre scenes we are very keen to avoid the conventional ‘theatre capture’ multi-camera look of so many OB recordings. Our aim is to find a visual language which complements and extends what we have done in the cut to date. And so we are here with three monster F35 digital cameras (two of which are above) to record one preview as a camera rehearsal (which was last night) and two performances today. In addition to the F35s, we also have a operator on stage, acting the part of a news cameraman covering the events as if they were unfolding on BBC News or CNN.

As I say, we truly do not know if the material we shoot here will cut with the location scenes, but of course it’s good to try new ways of exploring the translation of stage productions to screen. So we are regarding this as an experiment, even if it is one that we will have no choice but to share the results of, whether good or bad, with everyone who watches the film.

10. … and here is the show’s composer and musical director Tayo Akinbode talking about the music and the band The Vibes of March who play before, during and after the production:


  1. Fascinating blog. I was in the audience on Saturday night for the show and loved it. Wonderfully powerful and compelling performances, and interesting staging. Also good to be there for some of the filming, and can’t wait to see the filmed version. This will I’m sure be a landmark production of the play so it’s terrific to have it and the process by which it’s been created so fully documented.

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