Antony & Cleopatra review

Theatre, Shakespeare
3 out of 5 stars
Antony & Cleopatra, RSC
© Helen Maybanks

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Iqbal Khan directs Shakespeare’s Roman romance for the RSC

Cleopatra is an icon of playful exoticism, inspiring centuries of white women (and in Shakespeare’s time, squeaking boys) to deck themselves in silks, bangles and fierce brows. What’s intriguing about Iqbal Khan’s RSC production is the way it both leans into these age-old stereotypes and plays with them, with an endlessly varied performance by Josette Simon at its heart.

She’s kittenish, putting on silly voices to mock the powerful war-mongers around her, and riding around her palace on her lover Antony’s shoulders. And it’s dignified, too. Khan’s production is in some ways an exercise in high camp: there’s an onstage sauna, vast cat sculptures and endless ‘Egyptian’ outfits that are as sexed-up as any Hollywood seamstress could desire. But it also explores the ways that Cleopatra controls her own image, and painstakingly created an aura about her that was capable of leading Rome’s most powerful man astray.

The Egyptian scenes spill over with movie-star luxury, turning Antony Byrne’s compellingly gruff, bold Antony into a man bewitched. Back in Rome, all is sterile, presided over by a young Caesar who’s played by Ben Allen with boyish, intelligent rigour.

Like the rest of the RSC’s Roman Season, Khan’s production emphasises clarity over invention. Still, artful touches bring out the story’s mix of ironised decadence and fraught political manoeuvring. Laura Mvula’s live musical score couldn’t be better, repurposing the military pomp of a brass band into something ethereal and entrancing. A naval battle becomes a delicate dance of model ships, so many toys to delight a queen. By comparison, the drawn-out deaths of the play’s final scenes are astonishingly, shudder-inducingly real.

By: Alice Saville



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