ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA
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.