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A CurtainUp London Review
Antony and Cleopatra
by Tim Newns
Antony, besotted with the Queen of Egypt Cleopatra, is neglecting his duties to the Roman Empire. After the death of his wife Fulvia, Antony returns to Rome to fight off a threat from Pompey the Great. He also reforms his alliance with Octavius Caesar by marrying his sister, Octavia. Antony eventually abandons his wife and returns to Cleopatra crowning themselves rulers of Rome's eastern provinces. Caesar declares war on Egypt and defeats them due to Antony fleeing the battlefield in pursuit of Cleopatra. Antony's shame at his cowardice and at the false news of Cleopatra's death results in his attempted suicide. Cleopatra, with Antony dying in her arms, decides to take her own life rather than become a slave to Rome.
After a slightly tremulous start Cattrall eases into the role with valour and feistiness. Her Cleopatra is a much less sexy one than we may have expected and it is quite a far cry from her role of Samantha in the Sex And The City series. Cattrall presents Cleopatra as a ruler of a nation, an intelligent negotiator and a devoted mother. Her verse, which at times was often didactic and over emphasised, improved as the production progressed culminating in quite an exceptional final act performance. Jeffery Kissoon plays her Antony with gravity and intensity and is the major force of the production. Kissoon's skill at drawing the audience into an almost opposing state of emotion is at its most memorable when we witness Antony's plea to Eros (Mark Sutherland) to kill him and his subsequent attempted suicide is both awkwardly comic and rather moving.
Perhaps quite surprisingly there seems to be a slight lack of sexual chemistry between the two leads. Their love for each other is unequivocal yet their relationship never quite reaches the lengths to which we should believe this Roman hero would abandon his valiant ego to become shameful lover.
Ian Hogg plays a remarkably engaging Enobarbus and Martin Hutson is superb as a rather stiff-necked yet honourable Octavius Caesar. Despite the high profile lead roles this is a truly ensemble cast with certainly no weak points. Robert Orme (Scarus/Varrius) and Mark Gillis (Agrippa) prove fine examples of exceptional talent throughout the company.
The star of the production is Peter McKintosh's sublime and impressively practical set. From Egypt, depicted with eye-catching lanterns and colourful fabric, we were easily transported to a harder Rome with stark black uniform and red brick and glass panels. Paul Pyant's excellent lighting design instilled in the production grace and fervour while Sebastian Frost's sound-scape delivers a touch of eastern promise blended with the unimaginable horrors of war.
Despite its few oddities, including some quite strange costume attire - a rather distracting reflective body armour springs to mind, this is an excellent production that will mature and ripen in its run at the Playhouse. Suzman, well known for her momentous portrayal of Cleopatra for the RSC in 1973, directs a honourable production that certainly will highlight the exceptional work that the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse produce.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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