(written by William Shakespeare, directed by Iqbal Khan)
With Antony and Cleopatra as the Royal Shakespeare Company’s summer spectacular (alongside Wilde’s Salomé at the Swan Theatre), a certain level of grandeur was to be expected when I entered the theatre space. Whilst the elaborate set does make it out to be an epic play, Khan’s vision of the play does occasionally step into an overly melodramatic Shakespearean tragedy.
The main factor of the set (designed by Robert Innes Hopkins) was the central platform constantly changing levels throughout the play, establishing either location or social hierarchy. However, the pillars and gigantic curtain at the back does provide that sense of grandeur that Shakespeare’s writing demands. The tech compliments the set nicely, whilst staying true to the locations of scenes, it still rebels against natural lighting to delicately indicate tonal shifts.
In terms of overall design and aesthetic, everything compliments each other well. The battle at the beginning of act two is visually engaging, alongside the intense music by Laura Mvula adding to the epic battle we are witnessing. Mvula’s score, in general, is brilliantly immersive and provides great setups for scenes, and I will certainly be buying the score soon.
It takes a while for the play to really gain its momentum, and for a while, I could not connect with Josette Simon’s egocentric Cleopatra as she over-accentuates comedic punchlines and her passionate behaviour towards her Antony (Antony Byrne). However, as the second act’s events unfold, she really makes the role her own and becomes more likeable – the audience laughs at her balance of wit and attention-seeking behaviour as we are used to Cleopatra’s idiosyncrasies. Byrne was a natural leader as part of the triumvir, between the childish Octavius Caesar (Ben Allen) and the level-headed Lepidus (Patrick Drury), showing tremendous charisma and emotional range. I noticed Amber James’s Charmian engaging in particular, and I do wish her character arc could have been more explored in some way as I felt some interesting character decisions were being made.
If you are well-versed in this Shakespeare classic, I recommend you go and see this earthy and grounded production. The overall designs are well integrated with great performances to match. Whilst it takes a while to start investing in the characters, the grand finale of the play is worth the patience.
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2
Antony and Cleopatra is running at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon until the 7th September, then transferring to the Barbican Theatre in London from the 30th November 2017-20th January 2018. Saturday matinee performances begin at 1.15pm, and evening shows begin at 7.15pm.