Sunday, November 12, 2006

Theatre Review : Antony & Cleopatra - Shakespeare's Globe (dir Dominic Drumgoole 10/08/06)

Shakespeare's text of Antony and Cleopatra is, in my opinion, a mixed affair. The play comes alive when the main protagonists are on the stage, and some of the set pieces - especially the finale - are dramatically superb. But there is also a lot of business which completes the historical narrative but doesn't add much to the play as a whole. The task for the director is to transcend the stasis of these scenes.

Dominic Drumgoole's production at the Globe failed to rise to this challenge. The Globe is a difficult venue, lacking the benefits of lighting, scene changes and strong acoustics. It has an audience which is largely standing and whose attention easily wanders. For too much of this play, the stage-movement - performed in an austere 17th Century style - was non-existant, the business merely businesslike.

The set-pieces, however, were performed well - the drinking scene is always a crowd-pleaser, the finale exceptionally well-done. Frances Barber as Cleopatra was superb, her rages towering, her somewhat faded seductive charms utterly convincing. The final scene where she is robed in a diaphanous gown and clasps the asp to her breast is both erotic and moving. Nicholas Jones was a somewhat wooden Antony - in busy scenes you often didn't notice he was on the stage, which is not the presence required of one of the three most powerful men in the world. Jack Laskey, however, was a stand-out as Caesar, brooding and temperamental, as was John Bett doubling as the drunken Lepidus and an eccentric Scottish asp-bringer full of wit and gusto.

Within the constraints of a traditional staging it was a good production (but not as good as that of Mark Rylance in 1999). But in terms of a 21st Century night at the theatre, it needed just a little more verve and imagination to speed it up and keep the audience engaged.

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