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Shakespeareana

Available versions

1972: Charlton Heston

1974: John Scoffield

1981: Jonathan Miller

1984: Lawrence Carra

2015: Jonathan Munby

2017: Robin Lough


Related

Macbeth, 1954: George Schaefer (extras)

2015: Shakespeare Uncovered, Season 2, Episode 5


Antony and Cleopatra
2017: Robin Lough

This is the Royal Shakespeare Company’s version of the play, filmed from a stage production in front of a live audience. Overall, it is a solid production, though there are a number of things in it that make me uneasy, and many students or teachers might well find it less than the ideal introduction to the play in performance.

The setting and the costumes are impressionistically and artistically Roman; some also drawn from Pharaonic Egypt, which is rather silly. It does, however, provide a nice a nice break from the RSC’s normal fare of business suits and modern military uniforms. Sets and props on the RSC’s main thrust stage are typically minimal, but there are few here that are aggressively bizarre.

Josette Simon’s Cleopatra is the very striking center of this production, and I’m still not entirely sure what I think of her performance. She’s capricious and domineering, the very soul of dangerous changeableness. Simon captures Cleopatra’s volatility while always remaining physically imposing and towering over most of the other actors and actresses on stage. Her approach to the character — one of Shakespeare’s most complex characters, and certainly one of a handful of his most complex and powerful female characters — presents Cleopatra as a kind of a performer herself: she is always consciously “on stage” and crafting a dramatic experience of everyone around her. Her diction is exaggerated; she howls, simpers, roars, and mocks by turns; she changes direction with almost no provocation. Her diction is also rhythmically strange: she pauses ominously between words and phrases in ways that are sometimes meaningful and sometimes merely performative.

One can reasonably interpret the character of Cleopatra this way — an externalized dramatic persona, the product of an adroitly managed advertising campaign. It’s a striking conceit, but it comes at a cost: it bleeds her character of much of its internal integrity and most of its potential claim on the audience’s sympathy. It presents us with a magnificent mask, but it’s not clear what, if anything, there is behind that mask. If this play is to some extent about love, we don’s really see it in her. That’s a reasonable approach, I think, to Cleopatra’s character, but it’s not the only one, and I’m not sure I entirely like it. Cleopatra as a person is potentially very interesting. I personally find Eve Best’s portrayal in the Globe version (2015: Jonathan Munby) more sympathetic and engaging.

Setting Cleopatra’s special case aside, I generally find the production overacted, as so often with recent RSC productions. I can only think that this is largely an artifact of direction. The actors here are all capable of greater nuance, but are pushed into large and extravagant gestures of body and of voice, more than even the live-stage medium requires. Caesar’s sudden and largely unprovoked outbursts are a case in point; Antony is similar. Bellowing is apparently the order of the day at the RSC.

There is a certain amount of mere silliness here. The play opens with a ridiculous dance; there is also a fair amount of incidental music backing up the drama; personally I don’t much care for it, but that’s a matter of personal taste. The bulk of the music was written for the play; it’s more like exotic modern movie background music than like either Elizabethan or (as far as we can tell), ancient Roman or Egyptian music. There are moments where the characters burst into spontaneous song, and the general tenor of the piece is more like a rock opera than Shakespeare.

The play is furnished with a fair amount of humor, but it seems a bit excessive to descend to a mere laugh-fest when the death of Fulvia is announced. It’s hard to get to like either Antony or Cleopatra at that point, among other things; it also trivializes the more complex personal dynamics of the play.

This production also emphasizes (appropriately or inappropriately, depending on how you understand the play) the overtly sexual nature of the story. There are obviously suggestive gyrations onstage, as well as a great deal of other stage business that is neither adumbrated in the dialogue nor specified in the stage directions. Parents and teachers should be advised that there is more than a little physical sexual innuendo and one case of total nudity. It is not done, I think, to titillate, but it could well be inappropriate for younger students.


Agrippa: James Corrigan

Alexas: Waleed Elgadi

Charmian: Amber James

Cleopatra: Josette Simon

Demetrius: Jon Tarcy

Dharmesh Patel ... Philo / Ventidius

Diomedes: Anthony Ofoegbu

Enobarbus: Andrew Woodall

Eros: Sean Hart

Iras: Kristin Atherton

Lepidus: Patrick Drury

Maecenas: Marcello Walton

Mardian: Joseph Adelakun

Mark Antony: Antony Byrne

Menas: Paul Dodds

Menecrates: Luke MacGregor

Octavia: Lucy Phelps

Octavius Caesar: Ben Allen

Pompey: David Burnett

Proculeius: Luke MacGregor

Scarus: Joseph Adelakun

Schoolmaster: Patrick Drury

Soothsayer: William Bliss

Varrius: Jon Tarcy

Ventidius: Dharmesh Patel