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Antony & Cleopatra (RSC)

Jenna Harvey reviews the RSC's latest production of Antony and Cleopatra at Stratford-upon-Avon's Swan Theatre

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Antony & Cleopatra

Antony and Cleopatra sees the RSC in collaboration with The Public Theater, New York, and GableStage in Miami. The production is directed by Tarell Alvin McCraney and stars Jonathan Cake and Joaquina Kalukango in the title roles.

The play's opening is dark; as Cleopatra bathes in the distance the animated Enobarbus (played excellently by Chukwudi Iwuji) narrates. Bright light ensues and the scene is set with striking high pillars and triumphant Roman arches, under one of which a small band perch, perfectly poised. We are in Alexandria, Egypt, and the luxury of Cleopatra's life is portrayed through the clever use of veils and light. Water pulsates at the rear of the stage, resembling a Roman Spa. The lovers emerge, with their mutual passion evident both characters appear easy on the eye, a match most feasible.

Mark Antony's ecstasy is short lived, as he receives news of both his wife's passing and political challenges back in Rome (where he is one of the triumvirs). He is forced to return. It is at this point that we witness the attributes of a great Queen; Cleopatra, enraged by the news of Antony's departure and fuelled by jealousy and power, bids him gone: "Or thou, the greatest soldier of the world, Art turn'd the greatest liar." As the play progresses, she loses this fire and though her character has been reinterpreted through history, we see Cleopatra as her most famous dichotomy: a manipulative seductress versus a powerful and skilled leader. Her lack of control and self-absorption only aid to portray her as a kept woman, not as a Queen. Though many consider the role of Cleopatra one of the most complex female roles in Shakespeare's work, this production places a greater emphasis upon her infatuation with Mark Antony, a distraction that turns into an obsession.

The plot is easy to follow, despite a few disjointed battle scenes in Act 2. Octavius Caesar (Samuel Collings) is played well with minimal emotion and a distinct lack of regard; however, his appearance is somewhat more pompous Oxbridge schoolboy than scheming Roman villain.

The production is well considered, and holds all the ingredients for a delightful recipe, but is in some way lacking charisma and conviction. Though well executed, I felt Shakespeare's words were not heartfelt. The play does effectively demonstrate how war can ruin a man; though love and contentment may be present, they are no match for the soldier's hunger for war, and his thirst for victory. Though Antony and Cleopatra's intimacy and devotion remains until the bitter end, Mark Antony is essentially the product of his own downfall.

An enjoyable evening, though the RSC have yet to blow me away with a recent production of this hot-blooded classic.

Anthony and Cleopatra is playing at The Swan Theatre, Stratford-on-Avon until Saturday 30 November 2013.

- Jenna Harvey