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Review Round-up: Cattrall Cleopatra Charms Critics

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Sex and the City’s Kim Cattrall, who last year starred in a West End revival of Private Lives, has returned to the British stage, and to her home city of Liverpool, to lead a production of Shakespeare’s great tragedy Antony and Cleopatra.

Cattrall plays opposite Jeffery Kissoon as Antony and is joined in the strong ensemble cast by former RSC actors Ian Hogg and Martin Hutson for the production, which is directed by Janet Suzman (a notable former Cleopatra herself).

The production, which continues at Liverpool Playhouse until 13 November, also features: Ross Armstrong, Alex Blake, Rory Fleck-Byrne, Gracy Goldman, Martin Herdman, Oliver Hoare, Muzz Khan, Aicha Kossoko, Simon Manyonda, Offue Okegbe, Robert Orme, Bhasker Patel, Ken Shorter and Mark Sutherland.

  • Michael Hunt on Whatsonstage.com ★★★★ - "Sex and the City's Kim Cattrall and seasoned actor Jeffery Kissoon lead an excellent ensemble cast … The tragedy is re-worked and modernised through the direction of Janet Suzman, who herself was noted for giving past memorable performances as Cleopatra … In the programme notes, Cattrall said she was inspired by Suzman to become an actress. In return, she gives the director an encouraging performance that is likely to develop with real appeal … Cattrall's Cleopatra - the Queen of Egypt who Mark Antony (Kissoon) lusts after - is sexy, teasing, commanding and funny … Standing out from the supporting cast is Martin Hutson as Octavius Caesar, who is dressed in a pinstriped suit during the first act and military outfit during the second act … the production may not be to everyone's liking but praise must be given to Cattrall for coming back to her place of birth to take on such a challenging role."
  • Michael Billington in the Guardian ★★★★ - "Is this well done?" asks a minor character at the end of the play. Indeed, it is. Not only does Kim Cattrall, returning to her native city, make a fine, original Cleopatra. Janet Suzman's production is both fast-moving and intelligent, and, in its emphasis on the play's politics, gives us a version that might well be sub-titled Sex and the Empire … The first blessing is that Cattrall avoids romantic cliche. In place of some Hollywood voluptuary, she gives us a Cleopatra who is a working queen and ruler: at one point we even see her in specs sitting at a desk signing state papers … Black-wigged and imperious, Cattrall's Cleopatra is marked out by the spiritual isolation of the truly powerful … But the chief virtue of Suzman's production is its speed and clarity … A notoriously difficult play is laid out before us with rare perspicacity.”
  • Patrick Marmion in the Daily Mail ★★ - "…this is one of the most insipid productions of Shakespeare’s great tragedy I’ve ever seen. Admittedly, Cattrall’s English accent and grasp of the poetry did improve in the second half, but for the first 80 minutes of the preview I saw, she really wasn’t at the races … Cattrall fails to flaunt her character’s gloriously manipulative caprice. She’s supposed to make hungry where most she satisfies. Instead, she’s a wildcat tamed … As her beloved Antony, Jeffery ­Kissoon is no colossus - and he has zero chemistry with Cattrall. It’s a painfully long three-hour and ten-minute journey.”
  • Clare Brennan in the Observer - "Janet Suzman was a dazzling Cleopatra nearly four decades ago. Now she directs her own daringly intelligent, challenging and occasionally puzzling production … Kim Cattrall and Jeffery Kissoon are cleverly cast, since each carries an aura from a previous role that lends lustre to the part they play: he as the great warrior Karna from Peter Brook's Mahabharata and she as Samantha, Sex and the City's love 'em and leave 'em, 40-something vamp … It is at the point of death that Kissoon's Antony is most ridiculous and most sublime. By this point, Cattrall's Cleopatra has been so finely gauged, so quick to switch between histrionics, coquetry and calculation … that we still cannot tell whether she loves him or not … Although Ian Hogg's Enobarbus and Aicha Kossoko's Charmian were both splendid, others of the cast seemed too young and inexperienced, as if the acting budget had been blown on the leads. Overall, like Shakespeare's serpent of old Nile herself, flawed but fascinating."
  • Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph ★★★ - "Cattrall isn’t in the Suzman class yet. Especially in the first half, her lack of Shakespearean experience shows. This is her first major role in Shakespeare and Cleopatra is a hell of a place to start … if she is not yet the mistress of Cleopatra’s infinite variety, she grows in stature throughout the performance and in the great last act becomes extraordinarily moving … I’m not asking for the frantic bouts of simulated oral sex that notoriously accompanied one RSC production, but it would be a much stronger evening if there was a sense of the addictive passion that has turned Antony, one of the three most powerful men in the world, into ‘a strumpet’s fool’ … Kissoon is deeply moving as he bids farewell to his troops for the last time, and seems to penetrate the very heart of grief and shame when he realises that Cleopatra has led him to defeat yet again … This isn’t a great Antony and Cleopatra yet but it has the potential to become one if Cattrall works on the verse and Kissoon responds more ardently to her charms."
  • Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times ★★★★ - "Cattrall returns to her native city to play the Queen of Egypt in Shakespeare’s tragedy and she carries it off with style. Her Cleopatra has an easy grace and authority … Above all, though, she is clever, quick and politically astute … The equation is not quite balanced though in Antony. Jeffery Kissoon brings a grizzled, battered quality to the part – this is a man past his best – and can equal his lover’s capricious mood swings and sudden rages … Elsewhere this is a sharp, lively and fluent account of the play. Suzman picks her way nimbly through the knotty military manoeuvring and conveys the sense of a turbulent world in which the main players hustle for power … And in a strong ensemble several performances stand out. Martin Hutson is excellent as Octavius Caesar … And Aïcha Kossoko is lovely as Charmian, Cleopatra’s handmaid, silently mocking a eunuch with a twitch of her eyebrows – a telling detail in a play about sex and power."
  • Libby Purves in The Times ★★★★ - "People will boast 'I saw Kim Cattrall’s Cleopatra'. It is a defining moment for this beguiling actress - overly associated with her sensual flippancy in Sex and the City. Despite her recent respected stage outings she has had to move into a new orbit as a Shakespearean, under Janet Suzman’s sharp-witted direction ... Indeed, tedium is at no point permitted in this exceptionally lively chronicle of the 'lass unparallelled'. The text is handled nimbly, meaningly, even flippantly: Jeffrey Kissoon, suitably battered, conveys an Antony both strong and weak, and Cattrall, embracing, perching, storming, glaring, adoring, storms expressively through the language like any RSC veteran ... The only faint quibble is the casting of Octavia as a boy (Mark Sutherland) giving an incestuously homoerotic frisson to a scene with her brother Caesar. It’s quite a night."
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