ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA: William Shakespeare
Swan, Stratford Upon Avon, part of the Complete Works Festival
Runs: 3h, one interval, till 14 October
Review: Rod Dungate, 25 May 2006
It doesn’t get any better than this
Within the intimate setting of The Swan, this huge (and difficult) play becomes personal. Although the characters hold the fate of the world in their hands we are focused on Antony and Cleopatra as people; they are as vulnerable as you or I – more vulnerable in fact. Into this personal story come other people, Octavius Caesar, Pompey, Octavia, Enobarbus, Charmian and Iras, to say nothing of soldiers and servants; they are all caught up, for better or for worse. in this tragic love story.
It’s not because of the space, of course; the space enables it to happen. What we have in this space – and how lucky we are – are two of our most accomplished actors; Patrick Stewart and Harriet Walter. How marvellous to be so close, to catch the nuances – the downcast eye, the sudden smile, the intimate gesture.
Harriet Walter gives us a woman totally taken over by her love for Antony. It’s not his power she loves, for this Cleopatra’s power is ever present, sometimes understated, even unstated – but it can flash into being. Cleopatra, we sense, sees a real man in Antony; when he’s present her eyes light up, her face is transformed by her smile. She loves him with her whole body. As Antony descends into despair and drunkenness we long to bear the emotional burden of support with her.
Antony, we believe, in Patrick Stewart’s performance, is all too aware of the trap he is caught in. But overcome, overwhelmed, by Cleopatra, he is helpless to escape – he sees it, we see it, and we are unable to condemn him for it. This Antony’s dilemma is too real, too human for that.
There is such electricity between these two, and such a naturalness in performance, that you almost feel you are watching something you shouldn’t quite be privy to.
This is a strong company too. Ken Bones is an intriguing Enobarbus, in keeping with the tone, very human. His description of Cleopatra, ‘The barge she sat in . . . ‘ is a revelation; he clearly hates what he saw, speaks against the text, is gradually drawn into it against his better judgement. Golda Rosheuvel and Emma Jay Thomas (Charmian and Iras) are perfect supports for Cleopatra – lively personalities in their own rights but never eclipsing. And I particularly liked Julian Bleach’s Clown; an understated humour that lifts the spirit but doesn’t break the mood.
Gregory Doran directs with a sure touch; he allows the characters to breath and their relationships, in all their complexities, to come through. The settings are elegant and simple (Stephen Brimson Lewis) and there is a telling contrast between the feminine Egyptian court and the macho-male Roman one.
Cleopatra: Harriet Walter
Mark Antony: Patrick Stewart
Octavius Caesar: John Hopkins
Lepidus: James Hayes
Sextus Pompeius: Ariyon Bakare
Octavia: Mariah Gale
Enobarbus: Ken Bones
Eros: Chris Jarman
Demetrius/ Canidius: Paul Barnhill
Silius/ Wounded Soldier/ Proculeius: Rob Carroll
Schoolmaster: Ewen Cummins
Decretas: Ravi Aujla
Maecenas: Edmund Kingsley
Agrippa: Keith Osborn
Dolabella: Luke Neal
Thidias: Nick Court
Charmian: Golda Rosheuvel
Iras: Emma Jay Thomas
Alexas: Julian Bleach
Mardian: Ewen Cummins
Soothsayer: Chris Jarman
Seleucus: Ewen Cummins
Diomedes: David Rubin
Handmaid: Allyson Brown
Menas: David Rubin
Menecrates: Ravi Aujla
A Close: Julian Bleach
A Messenger: Craig Gazey
Directed by: Gregory Doran
Set Designed by: Stephen Brimson Lewis
Costumes Designed by: Kandis Cook
Lighting Designed by: Tim Mitchell
Music Composed and Directed by: Adrian Lee
Sound Designed by: Martin Slavin
Movement by: Michael Ashcroft
Fights Directed by: Terry King
Assistant Director: Steve Marmion
Company Voice Work by: Lyn Darnley, Jacquie Crago