As I said to aka_kelly
a little while ago, before she retired to her hotel room and bed, and I retired to my hotel room and "the internet," I chose last night's play because of its director; I chose tonight's because of the female lead. Neither disappointed, and Kathryn Hunter was as good as I'd hoped, but when it comes a night after a show that met my expectations and then exceeded them, it's easy to see this as a disappointment in comparison. But I'll try, as much as I can, not to let Romeo and Juliet
(which the two of us have continued discussing pretty much all day today) not to colour my views on Antony and Cleopatra
This is the first time I've seen the play on stage, which is funny because it was one of the two Shakespeare texts I studied at A'Level. At the time I hated both this and Twelfth Night
, but having in subsequent years seen the latter on stage and grown to love it, I concluded that my teacher's dislike for the comedy had coloured my own judgement, and wondered if the same was true for the tragedy. So did Michael Boyd's production change my mind? Yes and no. Performed in modern dress, the stage is dominated by a huge rusty drum, perhaps an oildrum, in which are concealed a number of doors. Octavius Ceasar is a born politician, Mark Antony a soldier who's got a share of the power, and the visual reference is clearly to the last decade's conflicts in the Middle East. And while I acknowledge that the fact it's still going on shouldn't be forgotten, I do feel like this particular metaphor is starting to feel a bit tired, and maybe theatre directors should give it a rest until they think of something new to say with it. Add the fact that I feel as if the Roman plays are always
a stageful of middle-aged men in suits and I was going to have some trouble warming to the political aspects of the story. For the first half an hour I felt very disengaged from the action.
Fortunately, where my opinion of the backwards-and-forwards political machinations of the story hasn't really changed, the titular couple's relationship and all that surrounds it came out in a much better light. Of course, one of my favourite actresses was playing Cleopatra, and Kathryn Hunter was all I'd hoped she'd be. I don't know how many essays I had to write in my A'Level course with some variation on the "infinite variety" quote in the question but she brings that in spades. Her Cleopatra's an unashamed drama queen, the slightest problem is the end of the world, but there's some genuine, unbalanced danger to her as we see when she gets some bad news and, literally, shoots the messenger (fortunately for him she misses.) When Hunter was cast I heard a lot of sniffs about "raised eyebrows" and "unconventional casting" which boiled down to people saying they didn't think she was attractive enough to play Cleopatra. But typically Hunter turns this to her advantage in an elfin performance, nowhere more so than in the very funny but subtly affecting scene where she asks to be told (bad things) about Antony's new wife's appearance. Besides, as Kelly said, this Antony isn't an oil painting either. Darrell D'Silva (his left hand now no longer in a sling but fingers still bandaged after a prop gun exploded in rehearsals) does well enough as the male lead but for me in any case every scene without Hunter in it was one where I wished she was
Of the rest of the cast, actually Cleopatra's retinue (Hannah Young as Charmian, Samantha Young as Iras, Larrington Walker as Alexas and Tunji Kasim as Mardian) impressed me by giving the characters a much stronger sense of identity than I'd ever felt from them when reading the play. Although, especially with his long black wig, I was constantly distracted by how much Kasim looks like that muscly Taylor creature from those films about vampires and werewolves, written by someone who doesn't know what vampires and werewolves are. You know what I mean, but I'm naming no names 'cause I don't want to be googled and flamed by psychotic fangirls. Anyway, it was a bit odd.
So overall, tonight pretty much lived up to my expectations; I guess you can't blame me if I was spoiled by last night exceeding them.Antony and Cleopatra
is booking until the 28th of August at the Courtyard, Stratford Upon Avon.