When lockdown and all the rest of it is finally over, will we be able to go back to not have a National Theatre live stream every Thursday to look forward to? Especially when they’re proper theatrical gems like Ralph Fiennes starring in ‘Antony & Cleopatra’, which is streaming for free from 7pm tonight for one week.
Shakespeare’s tragedy tells the story of the doomed romance and political power liaison of Roman general Mark Antony and Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. It’s famously challenging to stage: set 2,000 years ago, in Elizabethan English and with a plot that contains nearly 40 scenes and skips about across the ancient world.
Simon Godwin’s 2018 production for the National Theatre is a pretty textbook handling of it. It updates the costumes and staging to give the play a contemporary urgency. There are combatants: they wear military fatigues and have scrubby beards. Their fates are determined by smooth men in hushed government offices a continent away. Most importantly, it has a great cast: Ralph Fiennes as Antony and Sophie Okonedo as Cleopatra, plus brilliant support from the likes of Tunji Kasim and Tim McMullan. Designer Hildegard Bechtler delivers an imposing set and even, at one point, a submarine (you’ll just have to watch it to find out what the hell a submarine is doing in Shakespeare).
Our review at the time said: ‘Fiennes plays Antony as a boozy old lion, still in the political game through ego as much as ambition. The Roman statesman is clearly a shadow of his glory days, but there is a poignancy in his sense of damage. Perhaps Fiennes’s biggest contribution, though, is to swallow his celebrity status and let Sophie Okonedo’s Cleopatra dominate the stage. It is, above all, very entertaining: slick, stylish and action-packed, with a proper marquee performance from Okonedo.’
So if your knowledge of ancient history is limited to watching the last half hour of ‘Carry on Cleo’ while hungover, now’s your chance to invest it with a bit of passion and tragedy.
The National Theatre’s ‘Antony & Cleopatra’ streams tonight (Thu May 7) from 7pm BST on its YouTube channel. It’s available for a week.
In other theatre news, Jez Butterworth’s landmark ‘Jerusalem’ with Mark Rylance is set to return to the London stage in 2021.
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