Tag Archives: Antony and Cleopatra

Drama Queen


Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Thursday 11th May, 2017


A kind of sequel to Julius Caesar, charting the latter years of that play’s hero, the plot mixes the personal with the political and back again.  Mark Antony, one of Rome’s three leaders, is neglecting his duties by dallying with the Queen of Egypt.  The three men fall out.  There is war.  And another war.  And so on.  Meanwhile, Cleopatra carries on like the lovestruck diva she is, with all the wiles and depth of a teenager.  It all leads to tragedy.  Of course it does.

Iqbal Khan’s production feels very much a companion piece to Angus Jackson’s Julius Caesar.  Designer for both, Robert Innes Hopkins, uses the same idea for both: first half is dominated by tall columns, the second by a cyclorama with turbulent weather… Unfortunately, it feels like a disappointing episode in a series, proving the truism that sequels are never as good as the originals.  Some scenes lack focus – a nice idea of using model ships to depict naval battles just doesn’t come off.  Antony Byrne’s Antony is in the same mode whether he’s loving or fighting – I would like him to lighten up, have more fun with his drama queen, even being reduced to her level, for love does make petulant teenagers of us all.

The stage really comes to life whenever Josette Simon is on as the Queen of the Nile.  Grand, elegant, moody, manipulative, she is a hedonist used to getting her way, and knows how to get it.  Her schemes get out of hand, though, when she gives out word that she has topped herself.  Simon is captivating as the emotionally immature Queen – but in one scene, she is togged up like an Egyptian fembot that is at odds with everything else.

I feel that Andrew Woodall’s Enobarbus is casual to the point of being underplayed – his defection from Antony to Octavius Caesar comes across as no great loss.  The mighty James Corrigan is underused as Agrippa.  Speaking of Octavius, Ben Allen retains his role from the previous play.  Here Octavius is more mature, more assured of himself.  I also like Will Bliss as a Christ-lookalike soothsayer.

Original music is by Laura Mvula and, for the most part, its effective with discordant fanfares and a sense of foreboding, marred only by the occasional use of present-day beats, as if the composer is fighting against the urge to give us a rock opera.

It’s Josette Simon that maintains our interest throughout in this production that could do with a few judicious cuts or a tighter grip on the reins.  I hope the RSC’s Rome season is not already in its decline.


Josette Simon and Antony Byrne (Photo: Helen Maybanks. Copyright RSC)


Queen of Denial


The Swan, Stratford upon Avon, Monday 18th November, 2013


Tarell Alvin McCraney’s production plays out on an elegantly sparse set of Roman columns and arches, flagstones below and a canopy above.  There are pools of water but we are only aware of these when the actors trample through them or bathe in them.

The setting seems to be the Caribbean during the slave trade.  The Romans are dressed like Horatio Hornblower, and the Egyptians are the African slaves, for this culture-clash, this demonstration of imperialism.

As Cleopatra, Joaquina Kalukango is hot-headed and capricious, wilful and passionate.  She is petite but imbues her Queen of the Nile with a dignity and presence that belie her diminutive stature. Jonathan Cake is her Antony, towering over the rest of the cast, a bombastic, swaggering egotist.  It’s difficult to see what Cleo sees in him, apart from his dashing good looks.  He is the kind of man who would use ‘party’ as a verb.

Samuel Collings is excellent as a bit of an uptight Octavius, a stick-in-the-mud in contrast with the good time guy Antony.  Like Kalukango, he gives his character a haughty, entitled air, and delivers emotion both restrained and unfettered, when the need arises.

Chukwudi Iwuji’s Enobarbus is appealing although, a little oddly, he announces some scene changes, but not all of them.  At the end (spoiler!) he comes back as a Baron Samedi figure, leaping and prancing, as Death joins the party.  I think there is more scope for Voodoo in this setting – we get a glimpse of a doll early on.

Chivas Michael provides touches of comic relief and some absolutely beautiful singing, plaintive and evocative.  There is also strong support from Sarah Niles and Henry Stram in various roles.

On the whole, it works rather well, attractive to the eye and easy on the ear.  But I couldn’t buy into the central relationship, the doomed love story, mainly because of Antony.  Too headstrong and cocksure (and vice versa, probably) he struts and frets but as a lover, doesn’t convince.

"Don't be an asp!"

“Don’t be an asp!”