Braham Murray was recently asked why he chose to direct Shakespeare's epic love story. He replied: "I played Antony when I was 16 at school, and I fell in love with the play completely." Murray's enthusiasm for the text is evident as this latest Royal Exchange production is a real treat.
Julius Caesar's murder provides a dangerous backdrop for this great, passionate love affair. Antony and Cleopatra, two powerful leaders, fight to be together in the face of politics, war and growing turmoil. Each is willing to die for the other and these high stakes are what make the story so gripping. In Murray's capable hands it retains an edgy quality and never feels like a textbook adaptation.
All of the scenes are juxtaposed effortlessly. This means that the audience are taken on a fast paced journey, retaining the epic quality of the piece but also keeping younger members of the audience transfixed.
Josette Bushell-Mingo is a majestic, passionate, dominant and focused Cleopatra. When the play opens she is astride Antony and these highly charged scenes invite the audience to empathise with her actions later on. Tom Mannion matches her intensity as the fallen General, reliant on the queen's energy, both sexual and emotional.
The two leads are ably supported by Steven Roberton's enigmatic Octavius Caesar, Sarah Paul's loyal and supportive Charmain and Terence Wilton's Enobarbus who provides the play with a real emotional core. The entire cast bring Shakespeare's text to life with ease and authority.
Mark Bruce's terrific battle scenes bring a poignant quality to the stage as death stares the soldiers squarely in the face. Likewise Johanna Bryant's split set brings two worlds together and evokes the ever changing political landscape.
Great touches like a mist covered galleon, an all seeing Cleopatra suspended from the ceiling and a frantic pace mean that this hypnotic piece retains a film-like quality, transcending any reputation as a school text.
"Age cannot wither her nor custom stale her infinite variety". This stunning production has made sure of that.
- Glenn Meads