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Antony & Cleopatra (RSC)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Michael Boyd's Courtyard production comes to London bringing a world high on political struggle but low on private passion to the cavernous Roundhouse.

Straddling the ancient world with today’s Middle-East, Boyd’s production captures the shifting sands of the political in-fighting but the central theme of doomed, middle-aged passion gets somewhat lost along the way.

Kathryn Hunter's exotic and sinuous Cleopatra, has plenty to recommend her. This is a natural show-woman and one can see her appeal for Antony. But her voice, burdened with a thick accent, is often lost in the echoing space of the Roundhouse. I struggled to catch every word from three rows back, so one wonders how those in the balcony fared. But there two sides to the relationship and Darrell D'Silva's blunt and martial Antony looks far more at home on the battlefield than in Cleopatra’s chamber.

Boyd's production is very strong on the political machinations – one can really sense the urgency to seize power. The excellent John Mackay's scheming Caesar as at the heart of all the political battles, is the man with his finger on the pulse. When Octavia bemoans the ongoing intrigues – Mackay's simply-delivered statement, “welcome to Rome” speaks volumes for the way that the city has become a byword for power struggles.

There are some lovely touches, however, Greg Hicks' cameo as the soothsayer is a chilling presence. Paul Hamilton's Diomedes frantically improvising his description so not to feel the full blast of Cleopatra's wrath is a fine comic moment. A rare glimpse of humour: plenty of the other comedy is lost: the teasing of the eunuch is hurried over and there's no clown to bring in the asp.

There's a strong Pompey from Clarence Smith, a political operator to match Caesar, however Brian Doherty’s bland Enobarbus didn’t really capture the mood of a man torn between military duty and devotion to his commander.

While Boyd has captured the mood of a world that is about to change inextricably forever, the relationship at the heart of the play is lost beneath the politicking. It's a fine drama about shifting, tectonic plates of change – but the human tragedy at the heart is missing.

- Maxwell Cooter

Please note: This TWO-STAR review is from the production's run at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon in May 2010.

Antony and Cleopatra with an experienced cast drawn from the current ensemble at the Courtyard Theatre, directed by the artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Michael Boyd – it sounds like a recipe for success.

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. We need to feel the raw and urgent need for one another – a connection that is so strong that they step beyond the confines of their constricting societal norms.

With Darrell D'Silva and Kathryn Hunter however, we get some humour, some anger but no connection, no emotional bond, no sensuality. This hampers the production from the get-go, making it nigh on impossible to engage with their inevitable descent towards suicide.

Hunter is given an endless series of haute couture outfits and flashes with wit and humour, but her voice is too reminiscent of Eartha Kitt and her physicality so ungainly that 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 – particularly in the second half where his portrayal is so disjointed it creates confusion.

Director Boyd seems to lack a clear vision of what he wants to portray. He attempts to create some modern relevance with the Gulf War costumes for the combatants and sharp suits for the political classes but fails to drive home any particular message or analogy. He also seems to have encouraged a very literal use of gesture to underline the text. It may be he sees this as helping the audience get to grips with a complicated play – however it quickly becomes irritating and a serious distraction.

Verse-speaking (surely a keystone of the work of this particular company) is patchy. Too often, lines are delivered in a very mannered and choppy fashion. There are notable exceptions to this: Brian Doherty is outstanding as Enobarbus – clear, engaging and commanding.  John Mackay (Caesar), Charles Aitken (Ventidius) and Adam Burton (Scarus) all impress with some rounded and polished characterisations.

But fundamentally, this production fails to deliver a coherent and involving vision of the play and lacks the narrative clarity necessary to take the audience through the complicated events that form the basis of the action. A serious disappointment.

- Simon Tavener


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