Saturday, January 27, 2007

Theatre Review : Antony & Cleopatra - RSC - Novello Theatre (dir Gregory Doran 22/01/07)

One of the reasons given for the RSC's move from the Barbican - in my opinion, a disastrous mistake in losing access to one of the best theatrical spaces in London - was supposedly to attract more big stars to RSC productions in the West End. Patrick Stewart and Harriet Walter are two of the brightest stars in the theatrical firmament, but why they wouldn't have been able to travel that extra mile to the other side of St Paul's, I will never know.

That being said, one cannot doubt the stature of their performances or consummate professionalism in this current production. This isn't my favorite Shakespeare play - I find it bland in too many places (see ) but Stewart and Walter oozed gravitas, bringing clarity and resonance to their declamation as only great actors can, and, in Stewart's case, an engaging twinkle to the eye of Antony entirely in keeping with his character.

The production was classic RSC - stage mainly bare but with imaginative use of trapdoors and descending platforms; the abstract backdrops transforming through clever lighting at every change of scene; the music loud and exciting; the dance vigorous and unusual (and not too much of it!).

All the famous set pieces were done well - the drinking scene featured unstable characters on an unstable platform suspended from the ceiling, and hearty carousing from all. Cleopatra railed at the messenger, but without the fury of Frances Barbour at the Globe. Cleopatra's death scene with Harriet Walter in full Egyptian array was effective and moving.

And yet...if this production was a car, it might be an Audi! One cannot deny its power and pace, its sleek design and precision engineering. One cannot deny the consummate performances of the two stars in the leads, or the clarity of Greg Doran's vision. One cannot deny that this slick production was everything one should expect from the leading exponents of Shakespeare's work in the world today. And yet, despite these qualities, despite the rave reviews from the critics and the tumultuous applause from the audience, despite every box being ticked for what makes great theatre, I cannot, simply cannot avoid feeling that the end product was glossy, slick, safe, conservative, and, in the final analysis, just that little bit dull.

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