Elliot enjoying Peak peace away from turbulent times

Abigail Thaw as Trebonius and Elliott Cowan as Mark Antony in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar stthe Crucible Theatre, Sheffield. 

Picture: Johan Persson
Abigail Thaw as Trebonius and Elliott Cowan as Mark Antony in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar stthe Crucible Theatre, Sheffield. Picture: Johan Persson

Julius Caesar, Crucible Theatre, runs until June 10, www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk

One of the stars at the Crucible is enjoying the peace of the Peak District in his campervan, a world away from the violent turmoil on stage.

Elliot Cowan plays Mark Antony in Shakespeare’s Roman drama about the assassination of Julius Caesar by senators who don’t want him to become the empire’s supreme leader, which director Robert Hastie has chosen to set in the modern day.

For Elliot, the setting helps to emphasise the way the play feels highly relevant to present-day oppressive regimes and power-grabbing leaders.

He said: “Even if you do it in togas, it should be resonating. You can say, ‘let’s do this and let everyone else make their associations’. You don’t have to have an orange-faced Caesar.”

He has enjoyed working with Sheffield People’s Theatre, amateur actors who are playing tribunes and senators in the show. “We’re bringing the town in there,” he said.

The show is also very intense, with the audience often surrounded by the action. An entire row of seats has been taken out of the auditorium to help that process.

“When it comes to the big scenes with public speeches, the performance won’t really stop at the edge of the stage, it will move into the audience as well,” said Elliot.

“The audience will be referred to as citizens, which will make it a bit more complicit in the ideas and what to do about leadership and choices. I know I’ll feed off that part as well.”

Mark Antony says the famous “Friends, Romans, countrymen” speech at Caesar’s funeral, which he uses to get the people back on his side after Brutus has convinced them that he was right to halt Caesar’s ambitions.

Elliot said: “It’s something I’m familiar with, having played Shakespeare characters before. It’s a line that makes every actor draw breath.

“I suppose I’m trying to work out to what degree he was thinking ahead as every crossroad is presented to him.

“Everyone is shocked by the assassination. What does he do to rectify or steer it into position?

“He’s working it out as he goes, very much in the moment. He’s very adored by the people and uses that.”

A modern interpretation doesn’t mean losing the beauty of Shakespeare’s language, said Elliot. “You have to connect and be heard. You don’t have to allow it to sound otherworldly for it to be beautiful and affecting.”

Although Mark Antony is a famous character, he doesn’t dominate the action. “Shakespeare keeps him offstage a lot of the time,” said Elliot. “He only says 34 words until he comes in to find Caesar dead and then starts speaking quite a lot.

“Why keep him so enigmatic until then? It’s a theatrical effect and for character reasons.”

Elliot, who has starred on TV in Da Vinci’s Demons, Lost in Austen and Luther, is delighted to back at the theatre that gave him his big break in 2003. “I got to do Michael Grandage’s last show, Don Carlos, with Derek Jacobi and Richard Coyle. Don Carlos went down to the West End.

“It was my first time to work with that calibre of actors and my first experience of the West End. It was a stunning part as well.”

He is enjoying life in his campervan near Hathersage. “It’s a lovely thing to do, it’s added to my enjoyment of being in this city.”