I consider Antony and Cleopatra one of Shakespeare’s most underrated plays. Raging warfare on both sea and land, the tense political negotiating table, the tragic death of lovers, and the epic clash of incompatible civilisations; it has it all. Add into this mix Tara Isabella Burton’s inventive re-imagining of the play, transporting the action from Egypt and Rome, to Weimar Germany and America respectively, and there is the premise for something quite exciting in this production
The performance is incredibly stylish. A completely black and white set provides striking food for thought, complete with chez-longue, pillows and film posters from a by-gone age. The costumes are stunning, I lost count of the number of different outfits Cleopatra got through in the space of three hours, and the use of film and radio was particularly inventive, serving to quicken the pace of a play that is, with all its to-ing and fro-ing across continents, incredibly hard to stage. Down to the last jewel-incrusted military jacket, the sublime aesthetic of the production made it stand out from so many others I have seen.
Unfortunately however, despite this promise, the entire piece didn’t share the same attention to detail. There were numerous tech difficulties, even watching the performance on the third nigh of the run. Script in the film sections was often inaudible or muffled, lights failed to come up at right moment leaving the actors in darkness, and scene changes took too long– it seemed Burton was unnecessarily concerned with having chairs on stage for every scene in Rome.
The quality of the acting did not live up to the director’s vision. Rob Snellgrove as Caesar was too wooden, spending most of the play unimaginatively with his hands clenched resembling nothing of a warlike figure, and I felt no sympathy for Enobarbus, whose plight was lost through Chris Johnson often muffling his lines. Nevertheless, it should be said that Catherine Haine’s Cleopatra was very well acted indeed, finding the perfect balance of sensual lover and aggressive queen, and Michael Crowe warmed up throughout the performance to eventually give a very affecting portrayal of Antony as he raced inevitably towards his tragic death. Fen Greatley as Mardian sings well and Agrippa, played by Sam Young, adds some perfectly observed movements of comedy into the world of Rome
All in all, if the production could have benefitted from some more drastic cuts and greater work on characterisation, its unmistakable sense of style, its courage, and most importantly, leading man and lady, made it well worth the visit.