Antony & Cleopatra review

Theatre, Shakespeare
3 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars
(2user reviews)
Antony & Cleopatra, RSC
© Helen Maybanks

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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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3 out of 5 stars

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3 / 5

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Josette Simon was good but wasted in this production. This was better than the awful Julius Caesar. Umm, that's about the only positives. Another stinker from the reliably pedestrian and insipid RSC. I am massively disappointed (but not surprised) and have fingers crossed that Imperium tightens up and improves from its 2 and 3 star reviews from SUA before it comes to London. How I wish that Imperium had been given to another company. Sigh.


Antony & Cleopatra at the Barbican is an interesting interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s most famous love stories.

The whole play revolves around Cleopatra, the legendary Egyptian queen, who restored her kingdom to prosperity, spoke several languages, was very powerful, seductive, intelligent, manipulative.

She is associated in history with the women’s power in the male dominated world, with her intrigues, sexuality, romances with the most powerful at that time emperors - Mark Antony and Julius Caesar. The role is played by Josette Simon and I am a bit undecided whether it was brilliant or out of character representation. By history Cleopatra was very young and impulsive comparing to both Anthony and Julius but the character was portrayed as a mature, full of wisdom woman. As far as I know, Cleopatra’s pwesonality forte was her ability to manipulate, to ooze jealousy, to create a web of plotting but I didn’t see that on stage. Also, it was a bit too much of how the actress was trying to change her personality by simply putting on too many different voices, almost like a cartoon character. By history, Cleopatra was charismatic, with the power to effortlessly conquer and influence everyone using her charms but what I saw was an argumentative unhappy woman. On the other hand, I couldn’t take my eyes of her, she was very captivating to watch. She is a great actress but perhaps not for this role, in my opinion. Anthony's interpretation was quite impressive as he managed to show a combination of a confusion between a masculine leader and a blindly charmed, powerless lover. The passionate romance between Anthony and Cleopatra was very intense so it leads them to committing suicide.