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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA
at Courtyard, Stratford-upon-Avon

FUMBLED GRANDEUR
By MICHAEL COVENEY

  Kathryn Hunter and Darrell D'Silva

It is only three years since Patrick Stewart and Harriet Walter played the title roles in Shakespeare’s epic tragedy in an exciting, intimate RSC production by Gregory Doran. So the new version directed by Michael Boyd in the vastness of the Courtyard, though fast and furious, is bound to attract comparisons. They will not be to its advantage.

The casting of Darrell D’Silva and Kathryn Hunter as the lovers, embraced as much in their own hyperbole as in their actual arms, is odd, to put it mildly. D’Silva is an honest, journeyman actor, already a key component of Boyd’s ensemble company, and he certainly transmits the decline and mounting desperation of the grizzled warrior.

But his affection for Hunter’s midget queen, a curious amalgam of husky growls and trite impulses, is one of fascination, not lust. He seems to be returning each time to a pet toy, who parades at the Egyptian court with Charmian and Iras in a series of low-grade, almost suburban costumes that imply party charades, not affairs of statesmen.

There’s always a pronounced grunge factor in Boyd’s productions, invariably designed by Tom Piper, and it’s wearing thin. Soldiers clomp about in battle fatigues wielding machine guns. The Roman politicians line up in suits seeking compromise and coalitions like the British party leaders after the recent, inconclusive general election.

There is no sense of worlds colliding or empires dissolving as the actors scamper around the Courtyard, climbing ladders, declaiming from the galleries, rushing through Piper’s burnished cylindrical half drum of a set, which is complemented by a billowing mauve canopy and a bright spotlight that shines into the audience’s eyes like a dentist’s lantern.

The one victor in the melee is Brian Doherty, another relatively unknown Irish regular in the new Boyd scheme of things, who finds a real shape to his performance as Enobarbus; he describes “the barge she sat in” without that awful lip-smacking relish you get so often, and he reminds us that the play is about the witnessing of great events as much as the protagonists’ penchant for taking part in them.

But, oh, the banality of some of the staging, not least when the dying Antony is winched up to Cleopatra’s monument like a sack of potatoes. And when he dies, Charmian has to tuck his legs in so the promontory can be withdrawn inside the cylinder. Such awkwardness abounds. Cleopatra’s throne is inconveniently placed by a pool of blood left there by Antony’s self-immolating henchman Eros (bouncily played by last season’s Rosalind, Katy Stephens). When Cleo commands her robes, invaded by those old immortal longings, Iris unwraps a creased blue sheet from a downstage trunk. This forms a sort of tent that the Egyptian queen wraps around herself as if going on an Outward Bound mission.

Boyd cuts the clown with the asps, so the vipers, which look like sticks of liquorice, are a self-service facility from a nearby vase. There’s no tragic grandeur about the play’s resolution, though Boyd does make something of the continuing political carve-up over the prisoner, with the suited intermediary Proculeius overruled by his superiors to good effect.

Everything about the show seems random, thrown together. The music of bells and percussion, for instance, keeps butting in during big speeches, nothing “scored” about it. And once again the limitations of the thrust stage compel a lot of meaningless trudging about and a constant lack of focus. Shakespeare’s Globe in London is more suited to this approach, and I continue to fear for the future lack of design options in the new Stratford theatre, due to open for visits in November and productions next spring.

 

 


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