The delayed press opening of Michael Boyd's modern dress production of Antony and Cleopatra took place this week, with Darrell D’Silva and Kathryn Hunter starring as the famous lovers.
It's four years since the RSC last tackled the play, when Gregory Doran directed a cast led by Patrick Stewart and Harriet Walter.
The new production is designed by Tom Piper with movement by Anna Morrissey and music from James Jones and John Woolf. It will play in repertoire alongside King Lear and Romeo and Juliet (amongst others) at the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon until 28 August before transferring to Newcastle Theatre Royal for a week in October.
Simon Tavener in Whatsonstage.com (two stars) – “For an audience to invest emotionally in this play, it's vital at the very least that we can see the passion and fire that exists between the lovers … With Darrell D'Silva and Kathryn Hunter however, we get some humour, some anger but no connection, no emotional bond, no sensuality … Hunter is given an endless series of haute couture outfits and flashes with wit and humour, but … she fails to convince as a queen or a lover. D’Silva also offers a polished masculinity but fails to trace the tragic trajectory of Antony … Director Boyd seems to lack a clear vision of what he wants to portray … fundamentally, this production fails to deliver a coherent and involving vision of the play ... A serious disappointment.”
Benedict Nightingale in The Times (four stars) – “Kathryn Hunter’s queen smiles her sinister smile, walks quietly up to him, punches him in the stomach … It’s hilarious…but it’s also central to a splendidly volatile performance. Hunter isn’t obvious casting … But she’s surely more like the real Cleopatra and certainly more the 'Gypsy' that’s one of many descriptions of her in the play. And she’s not just volatile but elastic: physically, mentally, emotionally … I found her refreshingly different, and D’Silva equally riveting to watch … he proceeds to find more than the usual quota of regret, remorse, pain and self-hatred in the role … Michael Boyd’s modern-dress revival is a confident affair itself … given an evening as pacey, lucid and energetic as this.”
Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph (four stars) – “Kathryn Hunter is one of the most extraordinary actresses on the British stage … Boyd’s terrific new modern-dress staging of Antony and Cleopatra, one of the funniest and fastest-moving productions of the play I have seen … In the course of a single speech, Hunter will range from anger to humour, from tenderness to cynical calculation … Darrell D’Silva’s grizzled, overweight Antony marvellously captures the character’s old ruffian recklessness and his warm, flawed humanity. There is a real chemistry between him and Hunter’s Cleopatra … It’s a cracking production, and my only complaint is that neither Hunter nor D’Silva quite rise to the glorious heights of Shakespeare’s verse at the end. A little more work could surely put that right.”
Paul Taylor in the Independent (two stars) – “The leading actor had surgery after an accident in rehearsal with a prop gun. But though the only trace now is a small bandage, the production is dogged by problems that are quite independent of this mishap. Obstinate question-marks dangle over the casting, staging and conception of the political world in this insistently disappointing evening. Kathryn Hunter, in the role of Cleopatra, cuts a compelling figure as a diminutive, wiry and compulsive drama queen … But it's hard to believe that this Cleopatra could ever have infatuated D'Silva's intelligent, well-spoken but rather middle-class and middle-scale Antony. There's no erotic charge and Hunter comes across as a crank in the grip of a demented Cleopatra-complex … too often, the politics in this production are presented ineptly.”
Michael Billington in the Guardian (three stars) – “Michael Boyd's modern-dress revival of this difficult play has many fine qualities: speed, lightness, an inventive theatricality. But it also has the defects of its virtues … Hunter gives us an Egyptian queen who is small, mercurial and witty. Her mood changes as frequently as her costumes … Boyd's concept, which is to play the first half as comedy and the second half as tragedy; and, on the whole, the former comes off better … When it comes to the physical staging, rather than the verse-speaking, Boyd's production is first rate ... But, while I applaud Boyd's avoidance of romantic cliche, I still feel he undervalues Shakespeare's ability to create a whole world through heightened poetic language.”
Fiona Mountford in the Evening Standard (three stars) – “The programme cover shows Darrell D’Silva and Kathryn Hunter looking artfully tousled and bedsheet-bedraped … Yet there’s little suggestion of 'lascivious wassails' from the pair’s matter-of-fact dealings in Michael Boyd’s efficient modern-dress production … D’Silva gives the sense of a rugged, confident and headstrong man who tackles life with gusto. Hunter is more problematic, not least because the wearisome 'foreign' accent she has decided to adopt makes every pronouncement faintly risible … The best work of the night comes from … Cleopatra’s team of whim-fulfilling attendants. The trio display a sinuous ease around each other and the queen, and the women amusingly arrive for each scene in themed outfits that co-ordinate with their mistress’s.”
Ian Shuttleworth in the Financial Times (three stars) - “The press night of Michael Boyd's production was postponed for three weeks because of injury. Its rescheduling provided fortuitous parallels between the modern-dress action on stage and the political drama unfolding outside the theatre … The comparisons seemed all the more compelling because, alas, the production does not. Even sitting in the front row … I felt oddly distanced from proceedings … This is a somewhat trivialised Antony … Kathryn Hunter, too, clearly has all the skills and range necessary … And she gives a fine performance, but that is the problem: it is a performance … at times the production has scarcely more life in it than the rubber asps in the final scene.”