ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA: William Shakespeare
RSC, Swan Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon
Runs: 3h, one interval; Stratford till 30 November, then in US
Review: Alexander Ray Edser, 13 November 2013
A bold idea, but not a successful one.
This version of ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA is edited by Tarell Alvin McCraney, who also directs. The RSC tells us it’s a radical, stripped down version. It is radical in some respects, and the transplanting of the action from Rome-Egypt to 18th Century St Dominque nearly works, but at 3 hours playing time, I’m not sure I would consider it stripped down.
The two camps – English v colony – enables us to experience more directly the tensions of the two opposing nations of Shakespeare’s original play. This is a big plus. In many other respects, the shift appears more of a hindrance than a help. Haitian style ritual and song, meant to help with atmosphere, too frequently slows the action down, often near to stand-still.
Moreover, Joaquina Kalukango, whose Cleopatra is both beautiful and passionate, lacks the authority to convince us that she is the Queen of a huge and magnificent nation. Jonathan Cake presents a credible Antony, but also lacks the authority the character requires. We don’t sense a strange and wonderful love-affair between two adults, rather, we perceive a middle-aged man’s infatuation with his bit on the side. The stature of both characters is reduced, and as the play moves towards its conclusion, we don’t really care what happens to these two characters.
Some of McCraney’s revisionings work well, and add a freshness. I enjoyed the introduction of story-telling techniques – characters, for instance, telling us ‘The scene changes to . . . ‘ or ‘Scene II’. But McCraney is not consistent with these elements, and they’re dropped as the play moves forward, so the work as a whole feels unfinished.
The power games within the story, for the most part, come across well; in particular in the first scene in Rome, quiet, calm, determined and chilling. Much of the effectiveness of the politicking is due to some fine playing.
Chukwudi Iwuji’s Enobarbus is most effective – dignified, and we find him easy to empathise with. Samuel Collings is a most telling Octavius – every inch the easeful aristocrat – charming but absolutely not to be trusted.
Jonathan Cake – Mark Antony
Chukwudi Iwuji – Enobarbus
Samuel Collings – Octavius
Ash Hunter – Pompey/Alexas/Scarus
Sarah Niles – Charmian/Menas
Charise Castro-Smith – Octavia, Iras
Joaquina Kalukango – Cleopatra
Ian Lassiter – Agrippa, Thyreus
Chivas Michael – Mardian, Eros, Soothsayer
Henry Stram – Lepidus, Proculeius
Tarell Alvin McCraney – Director
Tom Piper – Designer
Stephen Strawbridge – Lighting Designer
Michael Thurber – Composer
Gelan Lambert – Movement Director