Review Round-up: Cleopatra Hits & Antony Misses
Date: 7 July 2006
Nicholas Jones and Frances Barber (pictured) take the title roles in Antony and Cleopatra, the third production in Dominic Dromgoole’s inaugural season as artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe (See News, 1 Mar 2006). Dromgoole himself directs the production, which opened on Wednesday (5 July 2006, previews from 25 June) and continues in rep until 8 October 2006.
Overnight critics had mixed reactions to Dromgoole’s light-hearted approach to Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy. As for the title performances, almost all were emphatically impressed by Barber’s commanding portrayal of the love-sick Egyptian queen, while Jones’ Antony was found wanting.
Maxwell Cooter on Whatsonstage.com – Cooter enjoyed “a dynamic and compelling Cleopatra from Frances Barber” but said “it’s a pity that the rest of the cast couldn’t compete with her. Barber’s is the best Cleopatra I’ve seen since Judi Dench’s in the mid-1980s. Whereas Dench’s was a portrayal aware of her failing sexual allure, Barber’s is full of fire; a woman well aware of her powerful sexuality, flirting with her servants (male, female and eunuch alike) and well aware of her volatility. Her scene with the messenger bringing news of Antony’s marriage to Octavia is genuinely scary… Nicholas Jones’ Antony is nowhere near her equal… I imagine that Dromgoole is trying to convey the contrast between the sensual East and the more rational West, but it looks more like a mismatch. This Cleopatra would have worn this Antony out in weeks.”
Nick Curtis in the Evening Standard - “It's faint praise, but this is the funniest Antony and Cleopatra I've ever seen. Really, this play should have the ‘infinite variety’ with which Shakespeare credits Cleopatra, but here Globe director Dominic Dromgoole mines a rich seam of humour in the pacy first half, then struggles for poignancy and grandeur in the ponderous second… there is no romantic spark between Frances Barber's voluptuously theatrical Egyptian and Nicholas Jones' plump, smug Roman. They come across like middle-aged, long-married suburbanites… Barber's raven-haired Cleopatra is a sensual, skittish creature and a relentless self-dramatiser… It's a big, self-mocking performance that occasionally, irresistibly, reminds you of Carry On Cleo. Jones's Antony, by contrast, is too much of a smoothie, and a bit camp to boot. He wins and loses wives and battles with an unchanging smirk.”
Lyn Gardner in the Guardian - “Love, life and death are quite a performance in Dominic Dromgoole's production, an evening at its liveliest whenever Frances Barber's Cleopatra is on stage… This is not Antony and Cleopatra as great love story: Nicholas Jones' grizzled Antony is too colourless for that, and Dromgoole plays up the comedy - particularly Antony's bungled suicide - with a wild glee that undercuts any romantic notions. Instead, what we are offered is a forceful reading of the play that pits the irreconcilable forces of reason and passion against each other… The great thing about Barber's approach is that she employs her natural campness to brilliant effect and also shows the strain of a passionate woman who is endlessly keeping up this performance. When she boils over, it is so shocking that it's funny. It is a bold piece of casting that pays dividends.”
Benedict Nightingale in The Times - “Frances Barber’s superb Cleopatra comes close to putting even Bernhardt in the shade. She doesn’t merely rail at the messenger who brings her news of Antony’s marriage to Octavia. She bites him, kicks him, hurls him against a wall, punches him in the stomach, breaks a staff on his back, and screeches so loudly in his ear that he’s half-deafened as well as reduced to palpitating jelly. But a moment later she’s on her knees and sobbing… proof that, as Fred Ridgeway’s Enobarbus also says, she’s a woman of ‘infinite variety’. Dominic Dromgoole’s production is in other respects a fluent, pacy, decently enough acted affair… When Jones’ Antony botched his suicide, the audience tittered, which I’m not sure it should. But Barber’s Cleopatra is in perfect control of every twist of her corkscrew character… And nobody, but nobody giggled when she reached what was a genuinely tragic end.”
Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph - “As revivals of the play go, it is neither wretched nor wondrous. … This scenically unadorned account, which marries Jacobean period costumes with over-the-shoulder toga accessories, is entirely competent and - given the right weather conditions - perfectly agreeable. The one compelling reason for giving it your attention is Frances Barber, whose Egyptian queen commands the stage with a thrilling intensity and lusty potency that quite shames the rest of the company… Part goddess, part bawdy gipsy, she is at her most magnificent in Antony's absence, embracing the idea of him with quivering rapture, theatrically playful in her self-debasing demonstrations of aching longing… the evening subsides into ordinariness whenever Barber is off, and Nicholas Jones' avuncular Mark Antony lacks the vestigial glimpses of warrior-like authority so essential for the role…. Others, too, are a Viagra pill short of full soldierly value.”
- by Caroline Ansdell
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