Skip to main content

News Archive

This page is part of the Global Shakespeare archive. Find out more...

  • For more information on global Shakespeare studies at Queen Mary University of London, please contact Professor David Schalkwyk, Chair in Shakespeare Studies at QMUL.
  • For more information on global Shakespeare studies at the University of Warwick, please head to the Global Shakespeare Research Group.

    Show all news items

    Roman Tragedies at The Barbican: A review by Kirsten Billingsley

    At the first set change, I made my way onto the stage to pick up a copy of the time line (recreated and provided below). Through the first play of Corialanus, I took advantage of the locations afforded specators, moving from the last row at the top of the house to the stage, then tried out a first row view before spending most of the evening in my favorite house seat of center somewhere between rows six and eight. There were no intervals or breaks longer than ten minutes, which kept the evening moving with no momentum lost for performers or viewers.

    If an audience member chose to fully participate, potentially all of the senses were engaged. A good deal of the major action took place downstage, above which was a huge screen projecting action taking place on whatever part of the stage the actors were situated, sometimes splitting to show two locations. Music was used, mostly percussion to increase the tension of war. Because so much of the action took place upstage, where the couches and benches were provided for audience use, spectators felt part of the stories taking place around them. Onstage participants were close enough to feel and smell the action taking place around them, enjoying refreshments while actors brushed past.

    Some brave participants became a part of the action. A favorite scene was made memorable thanks to audience participation. During Marc Antony’s speech in Julius Caesar, an audience member in the stalls yelled out to read the Will, which Antony of course refused to read, as per the script. Another audience member shouted from the stalls and likewise was answered by the actor. During his speech Antony made his way upstage, where the majority of the audience could not view him, and mingled in a group of actors difficult to discern on the screen. The house audience shared a laugh as a man, balancing a plate of cake in one hand while attempting to retain the contents of a glass of red wine in the other, ran downstage, jumped off the apron and into a front row seat - pursued by Mark Antony with a mob of citizens behind him. Antony continued to address a his speech toward the unwittingly recruited cast member who, as luck would have it, was none other than Global Shakespeare’s Professor David Schalkwyk. As a side note, I highly recommend a close center row as your best entertainment value.

    It is fortunate that the Dutch language has much in common with English. Hearing a foreign tongue while reading the closed caption modern English on the screen of familiar Shakespeare text enhanced the enjoyment of the performance through a game of multi-translation accuracy. The news ribbon highlights playing across the bottom of the screen also aided in breaking the language barrier while enhancing the modern setting. As is the case with many contemprary performances, several of the parts were played by women, including the major role of Octavius Caesar in Antony and Cleopatra. At the end of Coriolanus and Julius Caesar the announcer informed the audience of which actors would be switching characters and which actors would remain in their present roles. The Julius Caesar Mark Antony continued in the role for A&C.

    During the last tragedy, Antony and Cleopatra, the audience was asked to return to their original seats for the remainder of the performance. I returned to my top row seat, observing that about one-quarter of the original audience had exited the performance. It soon became apparent why audience members were no longer allowed on stage. During Cleopatra’s death scene, a live banded snake entered in a basked and was handled by a lady in waiting and by Cleopatra. The script was followed, but the snake was not allowed near Cleopatra’s body. There was also no blood in any of the deaths. With each death there was a five minute count down. All of the deceased lay on a slab, viewed by the audience on the screen using a chalk-outline styled camera directly over the body. The victims were taken away shortly thereafter, with the exception of Antony, who was joined by Cleopatra.

    It was a most satisfying evening of innovative design and well-acted engaging performances, with moments of anticipation, emotional intensity and levity. The language barrier was creatively overcome. The audience parted satiated. This mamouth undertaking of a modern language, contemporary dress adaptation of Shakespeare’s Roman Tragedies performed to an English audience in Dutch while utilizing both primitive percussion and 21st century tech is a hit.



    The photo shows the screen in use with the news ribbon being used for the countdown of Coriolanus’ death. Below the screen is the upstage observation area.



    The photo shows the screen in blue when not in use. Below the screen is the upstage sitting area with vendors, couches, screens and set pieces. Beyond the small retaining wall is the downstage set with no audience viewing area.

    Roman Tragedies (total duration: 354 minutes, or 5 hours 44 minutes)


    00 min





    Coriolanus is awarded the laurel wreath


    Triumphant entry into Rome


    Scenery change 1


    Coriolanus is nominated as consul


    Coriolanus is removed from the Senate (due to his violent behaviour)


    Coriolanus makes a public apology


    Coriolanus is banished from Rome


    Scenery change 2


    Coriolanus crosses over to the enemy




    Coriolanus yields to his mother


    Scenery change 3


    Death of Coriolanus



    90 min



    Brutus fears that the people will crown Caesar as king


    Scenery change 4


    The conspirators meet at night


    Portia wants to know what is troubling Brutus. Calpurnia does not want Caesar to go to the Capital


    Death of Julius Caesar


    Scenery change 5


    Brutus and Antony speak to the masses


    Scenery change 6


    Quarrel and reconciliation of Brutus and Cassius




    Death of Brutus


    Scenery change 7



    197 min



    Antony’s presence is needed in Rome


    Emergency meeting of the triumvirate: restoration of the triumvirate


    Antony leaves Rome with his wife Octavia


    Caesar breaks the cease-fire with Pompey. Octavia proposes herself as mediator




    Caesar defeats Pompey and dissolves the triumvirate


    Scenery change 8




    Antony and Cleopatra estimate their loss


    Death of Mark Antony


    Caesar plans a triumphant inauguration in Rome with Cleopatra


    Death of Cleopatra


    Roman Tragedies – Practical Information

    After the first hour an hour of the performance you will be allowed to move freely around the auditorium and stage until the final 75 minutes of the performance when you will be asked to return to sitting in the auditorium.

    You are allowed to change your seat throughout the performance.

    There is no interval. Refreshments will be available to purchase on stage using cash or contactless payment, and you may enter and exit the auditorium whenever you like.

    You can reach the stage from the hallways surrounding the auditorium. We kindly request that you eat and drink only on the stage or in the foyers, and not in the stalls or circle.

    Please note: Throughout the performance, while the scenery is being changed, you will receive additional important information from the Master of Ceremonies.

    Strobe light is used during the war scenes.

    Fri 24 March 2017, 14:11