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Friends, Romans, Countrymen: RSC Rome Season at the Barbican

PUBLISHED: 16:57 01 December 2017 | UPDATED: 16:57 01 December 2017

RSC Anthony and Cleopatra. Picture: Helen Maybanks

RSC Anthony and Cleopatra. Picture: Helen Maybanks

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Hampstead actor James Corrigan plays Mark Antony in Julius Caesar as part of the RSC’s Rome Season at the Barbican

RSC Julius Caesar RSC Julius Caesar

Opening Shakespeare’s four Roman plays in chronological order over four weeks is a dream for Hampstead actor James Corrigan.

As Mark Antony in Julius Caesar the 28-year-old delivers the famous Friends Romans Countrymen speech, but there are also parts in Coriolanus, Antony and Cleopatra and Titus Andronicus in the RSC season which transfers to the Barbican.

“You grow up reading about Judi Dench and Ian McKellen learning their trade in these repertory seasons so I feel lucky to have that training ground, because it’s not that common now. In the same day you can do two different plays and play different characters. You may be perfect for one but not another - it really stretches your muscles, but actors love being able to show versatility, so bring it on.”

Having also appeared in The Merchant of Venice and Othello, like those RSC greats before him, he’s spent three years in Stratford with “only one pub to go to.” By which he means the Black Swan known to thesps as the Dirty Duck.

So what might audiences gain from gorging on this Roman feast?

“You piece together 500 years of Roman history,” says Corrigan. “As Marc Antony I say things which are then contradicted by the character I play in Antony and Cleopatra, who is reminiscing about events in Julius Caesar. You realise these are alternative facts, a re-writing of history which is interesting to us now. In the light of President Trump, having competing narratives which don’t marry up feels more like reality.”

Currently staying with his parents in West Hampstead, he says, after years of the Bard, he’s starting to “talk funny.

“When you say anon or wherefore in normal conversation you know it’s time to do a modern play!”

But not until January.

“Shakespeare is timeless, the poetry, the stories, like Romeo and Juliet. He’s so spot on with the whole question of how democracy works, how leaders manipulate or use oratory to sway people, the fickleness of the mob or toxic masculinity in Coriolanus.

“Shakespeare was the only one of his contemporaries never to be arrested or censored, because he wrote such ambiguity and nuance into his plays. Everyone else can only hope to keep up.”

RSC Rome Season runs until Jan 20 barbican.org.uk

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