ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, 4Star****, RSC, Stratford / London

Stratford Upon Avon / London
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA: William Shakespeare

RSC: Main House, To 7 September (Stratford), 30 November (London)
Runs: 3h 20m, one interval
Tkts: 0844 800 1110


Review: Alexander Ray Edser, 10 April 2017

Much to offer, a tantalising glimpse of things to come
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA is the other end of the story begun in JULIUS CAESAR. It has come down to us as a ‘great love story from history’; Mark Antony, now much older and powerful, falls in love with the queen of a rival state – Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. Love story it may have been, but it was also deeply political. Cleopatra aimed to save her state as an independent nation, and saw a liaison with Rome (Mark Antony) as a means to achieve it. It is possible that the thing that went wrong was that they actually loved each other – a fatal weakness. Shakespeare brings focus to the love-affair, so the play becomes a human tragedy.

In the meantime, the ruling triumvirate from Rome (a young Octavius Caesar, Lepidus, and Mark Antony) is falling apart. And this is exacerbated by attacks from a rebel against the state, Pompey.

Shakespeare endeavours to interweave the love story and the political machinations and creates a play with famous purple passages but a tricky (even shaky) structure. While Kahn’s production has many strengths (character and atmosphere) he has not solved the problems of the first half, which contains much of the politics. There are a lot of partying’s and goings-on which are strong on atmosphere but cloud the complex narrative. It is difficult to tell who is siding with whom and for how long. It would have been helped by greater attention to narrative detail.

It is helped, though, by some strong and revealing characterisations. Antony Byrne brings all the straightforward humanity he brought to Julius Caesar to Mark Antony. Antony is hopelessly flawed, and in Byrne’s portrayal the more hopeless he becomes (refusing to take advice not to fight by sea) the more we warm to him. His cruel whipping of Caesar’s servant and giving up of his own servant to Caesar creates a terrific tension within us. Josette Simon’s Cleopatra is bereft of regal status early on, as we see her diminished by her love for Antony. But she reverses this in the final scenes, allowing us to glimpse what we have missed by not seeing her at the height of her powers.

Andrew Woodall’s Enobarbus is every inch a rough-hewn soldier, there is an air of cynicism around him which makes him not terribly likeable. Fine by me, but I’m sure not to everyone’s taste. Ben Allen’s Caesar is a real politician. He seems most reasonable, even, at times, out of his depth, but Allen leaves us in no doubt, here is the real scorpion (or viper) in the nest.

Taking these two plays together (Caesar and Antony), the poetical machinations become intriguing. It will be fascinating to see how the Robert Harris adaptations, IMPERIUM, fill in the gap from the end of one to the beginning of the other.

Mardian: Joseph Adelakun
Iras: Kristin Atherton
Pompey: David Burnett
Agrippa: James Corrigan
Lepidus: Patrick Drury
Eros: Sean Hart
Men crates: Luke MacGregor
Philo Ventidius: Dharmesh Patel
Cleopatra: Josette Simon
Scarus: Marcello Waltron
Octavius Caesar: Ben Allen
Soothsayer: Will Bliss
Mark Antony: Antony Byrne
Menas: Paul Dodds
Alexas: Waleed Elgadi
Charmian: Amber James
Diomedes: Anthony Otoegbu
Ocrtavia: Lucy Phelps
Varius / Demetrius: Jon Tarcy
Enobarbus: Andrew Woodall

Director: Iqbal Khan
Designer: Robert Innes Hopkins
Lighting: Tim Mitchell
Music: Laura Myula
Sound: Carolyn Downing
Movement: Villmore James
Fights: Kev Mc/curdy

2017-04-12 11:54:53

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