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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Shakespeare’s Globe, London

By Patrick Marmion

  Antony and Cleopatra at Shakespeare’s Globe - Frances Barber as Cleopatra and Nicholas Jones as Antony. (Photo: John Haynes / Shakespeare’s Globe Press Center)

Under its new artistic direction, Antony and Cleopatra at Shakespeare's Globe isn't so much a love-match as an out and out miss-match. As incarnated by Nicholas Jones and Frances Barber, the two great sexual titans of the ancient world are a very unlikely couple.

On the one hand, Frances Barber is a magnificent tigress prowling the stage eating men alive. But she is also a very knowing and very high-maintenance world historic sex kitten. And she doesn't care who knows it. More capricious than Elizabeth Taylor and more scheming than Eva Longoria in Desperate Housewives, you do genuinely wonder if age can wither or custom stale her infinite variety.

By contrast, Nicholas Jones is a fine Shakespearean actor, but he is far from convincing as a profligate Latin sex god. Not even a Richard Burton style debauchee. Instead, his much older Antony is a rather decent, clubbable gent with a benign, patrician demeanour. He has plenty of urbane Roman rectitude, but shows little appetite for reckless sexual self-destruction. Indeed, he seems much happier with Caesar's prim little sister Octavia who he marries to forge a political alliance. Not just a good career move, it's a marriage of true minds.

Indeed, Dominic Dromgoole's rumbustious production seems faintly uncomfortable with the whole question of the plays' often vulgar sexuality - except in the role of the leading lady. His direction hardly oozes the androgynous renaissance cupidity in which Shakespeare's play luxuriates. Rather, the production rejoices in rip-roaring assaults on unsuspecting messengers and a scoffing visit from a sarcastic purveyor of vipers. But with debunking triumphing over avaricious sensuality, there is little tragic momentum and the play reverts to melodramatic farce.

By the end, Jones's Antony has become quite fey and even camp and there is little sense of the seismic love story that shook the classical universe. Meanwhile, Jack Laskey's skinny, gummy-eyed Caesar who sports an oily scrape-forward on his pate, furtively eyes his sister like some stooge out of Monty Python. And Fred Ridgeway as Antony's right hand man Enobarbus, is a sardonic creation like a jaded hack at the end of his contract.

Barber alone scales the tragic heights, at the end gliding dreamily on soaring poetry, backed by the wail of a Moorish dirge. If the other actors cloy the appetites they feed, Barber makes hungry where most she satisfies.


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