Antony and Cleopatra is not a show I knew a great deal about going in, which is annoying to admit. The show, I’m glad to say, has remedied this wonderfully. The show is clear all the way through and at no point did I feel out of depth or lost with the language, which is a supreme compliment for anyone attempting to stage Shakespeare. Compliments seem to flow naturally for this show, which is a masterful excursion into the realm of Shakespearean drama. From the off the atmosphere is one of high drama, the auditorium filled with smoke, which continues intermittently throughout. The story is one that involved very powerful characters that have great authority and charisma, true leaders of men in a golden age of war and conquest. The show details the fall from grace of perhaps the greatest of these men and as such requires a production that is equally strong and physical. It delivers fantastically.
The set was typically RSC and was well done, a rusty wall at the back giving both a fitting backdrop and an innovative system of entrances and exits, the style similar to that of the Romeo and Juliet. The general image of the show was something I liked. It was in perfect keeping with the themes and the story, giving the action a very grounded and real feeling.
Darrell D’Silva’s efforts of Antony were unfalteringly majestic throughout. He owned the stage whenever he was present and delivered what was a powerful performance. I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of his character; from his beard (definitely worth a mention!) to the depth he had, effortlessly and dramatically bringing Antony to life. He was as a lion, owning the stage in the confidence that it is rightfully his and when challenged, thrashing and lashing out with a violence that was, at times, terrifying and at all times majestic to behold.
When I first saw Kathryn Hunter enter the stage as Cleopatra she didn’t wholly convince me. This, however, proved to be a good demonstration of the old adage ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ as she grew into the role as the drama unfolded, conveying the conflict of her tortured love for Anthony and her pride as the legendary Queen of Egypt with a distraught agony that was violently emotional. Her efforts with her numerous costume changes deserve a mention, as well as her ability to act out the more dramatic scenes powerfully, though her overall performance could have done with more colour.
The performance that stood out for me other than Darrell D’Silva was Brian Doherty as Enobarbus. As one of the supporting cast he made a decent bid for a lead role. He was mature and well rounded and his journey was one that you found yourself eager to follow and his end came as a genuinely upsetting moment in the play. He found the character of a battle-hardened soldier who has become disenchanted with life very well, putting his store in his captain above all else. A very strong performance.
Other cast members were generally strong in their roles, notably Katy Stephens, Larrington Walker and Clarence Smith. Adam Burton’s Scarus grew from a role that was very much incidental character in the first act to someone who found himself at the center of the action and along with Katy Stephens gave a very emotional portrayal of two strong fighters who are faced with their cause falling down around them. I rate these two (and Brain Doherty) very highly indeed.
John Mackay (Caesar) was, however, a bit poor. I found myself struggling with his character and his apparent inconsistency between merciful and brutal. He could have found a better path through the character as he came across confused and inconsistent, which was a disappointment as he was meant to be the challenge to such a strong Antony as Darrell D’Silva.
One of the few things that didn’t work in the show is the costume. Any attempt to make a modern dress production of Shakespeare runs a gauntlet of risks and although Antony and Cleopatra makes a valiant effort and largely succeeds there are a few moments where it falls down. Cleopatra has a myriad of amazing costumes throughout but they seem confused at times with the conflict between the archaic language and modern dress not being fully resolved. The decision to put Caesar and a few others in suits as opposed to military gear like the rest of the cast is odd and felt a bit out of place. I would say, however, that it was a largely very successful attempt at modern dress period drama.
I also wasn’t a fan of the way in which they portrayed the sea battle but I recognise that it’s a difficult thing to do and have no qualms about them doing it in that way.
This is a show that it would be a shame to miss. This is the RSC doing what they do best and doing it well. Apart from the pitfalls that it is incredibly difficult to avoid with Shakespeare it is a generally very able cast giving a very good account of themselves, led from the front by Darrell D’Silva, who gives a truly inspiring performance. I thoroughly enjoyed the show and would recommend it for anyone wanting to see something majestic on stage.
Written by William Shakespeare; Directed by Michael Boyd; at the Roundhouse Theatre; Starring Darrell D'Silva, Kathryn Hunter, Brian Doherty, Adam Burton, Katy Stephens, John Mackay, Greg Hicks, Larrington Walker; Runs from 08 December 2010 - 30 December 2010 as part of the RSC London Season.
John Ord (08/12/2010)