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As Shakespeare’s Globe heads to Cambridge Arts Theatre, Dickon Tyrell says: Julius Caesar seems startlingly relevant right now

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Shakespeare’s Globe is bringing a modern dress production of Julius Caesar to Cambridge and its star reckons audiences will find it an apt comment on modern politics.

Dickon Tyrell plays the title role in the Globe on Tour series after it premiered in London.

Julius Caesar production directed by Diane Page. Picture:: Helen Murray
Julius Caesar production directed by Diane Page. Picture:: Helen Murray

He said: “It’s all about regime change. I mean, it couldn’t be more relevant for this week with Boris Johnson on the way out and people vying for power, setting out what they might do. And that's what this plays about. They get rid of Caesar and haven't really thought out what they're going to do. So it is about political ambition, intrigue, ego, narcissism.”

To research the role of Caesar, Dickon learnt about the Roman emperor's tendency towards tantrums and the fact that he had epilepsy.

He says: “Caesar had a terrible temper. He would just flip. And so that was really helpful in a scene where I've got someone saying to him, ‘Why aren’t you coming to the Senate?’ And he replies: ‘I don’t have to give you a reason’. And that seemed like a moment where I could really flush that anger out, so that the audience just gets an idea of him being quite unstable.

“But what I love about that is it is quite a private moment. It’s not public. It’s not like when you’d see Johnson at the despatch box. Instead you get a glimpse into the life of the man. You see he is someone who’s very flawed and very human. So that was the thrill of it for me.”

He added that while appearing in the play Labour of Love alongside Martin Freeman about left-wing politics, he met former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and was intrigued to see the difference between their private and public behaviour and that too has informed this role.

“I met Blair and Brown, Neil Kinnock and lots of other MPs. And, in the case of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, I just became fascinated with the person you’d meet privately and then look at the person that you’d see publicly. It was fascinating meeting Gordon Brown, who was completely different privately from his stern public persona.

Julius Caesar production directed by Diane Page. Picture:: Helen Murray
Julius Caesar production directed by Diane Page. Picture:: Helen Murray

“He was charming. He was gentle. He was so interested in the play that I was doing. Whereas Tony Blair was exactly the same as he appeared publicly. You didn’t get any sense he was different from when he was on screen. Gordon Brown never showed his vulnerable side in public so that was helpful. Caesar wouldn’t want to show his vulnerability when he was with his Senate. It’s Shakespeare being accurate and honest as ever when capturing the human condition.”

His research also led him to the discovery that Caesar had epilepsy and Dickon felt this explained some confusing moments in the play.

He said: “That was a startling discovery but it makes sense when he comes back on the stage in the first scene, he’s very odd and says: ‘Let me have men about me that are fat, sleek-headed men’. And I always wondered where that line came from, but actually it’s obvious that while he has been off stage he has had an epileptic fit. My research revealed that when you come back from a seizure, you’re very paranoid. Shakespeare obviously was someone who knew about epilepsy and how you recover from a seizure.”

Dickon has appeared regularly on the Globe stage, most recently in The Merry Wives of Windsor and Bartholomew Fair. He has appeared in productions of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night and Othello, plus The Oresteia, Anne Boleyn, The Knight of the Burning Pestle and The Duchess of Malfi. This is the third time he has appeared in Julius Caesar, which is set in the present day in this production.

The story describes a conspiracy to kill, cunning rhetoric and a divisive fight for greatness: when Cassius and Brutus decide Rome’s leader poses a political threat to their beloved country, there’s only one solution.

Julius Caesar production directed by Diane Page. Picture:: Helen Murray
Julius Caesar production directed by Diane Page. Picture:: Helen Murray

Apparently Dickon’s Caesar doesn’t go down without a fight in the murder scene.

“I discovered that Caesar was only 55, when he was killed - the same age as me. Although many times you see him being played by someone much older. So in the assassination scene, I thought, ‘he’s a soldier, he'll fight back’. So we ended up with this really scrappy assassination, which I think I’m very proud that it’s not just a rather staged, choreographed thing. This will be my 20th show with The Globe and I have played some fantastic roles.”

He believes the charm of a Shakespeare’s Globe performance - performed in daylight - is the rapport that the actors create with the audience.

Dickon says: “We interact with the audience much more. And really, we try to put the audience in the scene with us. So when you’re acting at the Globe, there is nowhere to hide. You can see all of their faces. If it’s a matinee or an evening show, you really get a connection with them, you can make eye contact. In a normal theatre, lights go down on the audience, and the actors are in their little world. Not so with the Globe, because there we’re all in the same world together.

Julius Caesar production directed by Diane Page. Picture:: Helen Murray
Julius Caesar production directed by Diane Page. Picture:: Helen Murray

“We play both indoors and outdoors, but when we are inside, as we will be in the Cambridge Arts Theatre, we keep the lights up on the audience. So they don’t go into that conventional theatre stage in the dark. Instead, they can remain as a group rather than individual spectators. It means if you have a solilioquy you can actually talk to somebody. It stops all of that sort of generalised classical sort of acting. And as they’re looking at you often, they’ll nod because they just like being part of it. It changes the performance every night.”

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