Antony and Cleopatra (2)

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The National Theatre managed to significantly redeem itself here and prove that this spring’s Macbeth was a blot on an otherwise impressive run of thoughtful and striking Shakespeare adaptations which bring the star power of their cast to bear on the greats.

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Lie still and dream

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I think Shakespeare must have been a man after my own heart. By which I don’t just mean the fart jokes and the humanity, but also that he was clearly a man who knew the splendid weirdness of dreams. Not everyone does – I have friends who swear they never dream, and those who think an unusual dream is one where they go back to school and have a history lesson – but taught by their old geography teacher (the horror!). I on the other hand belong to that group of humanity who nightly gets vivid technicolour spectacles which have all the plot of the latest Hollywood blockbuster, and almost as many dinosaurs. And I suspect Shakespeare was too.

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Antony and Cleopatra

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Antony and Cleopatra

8 August 2014

Deciding that going to the Globe was not enough of a challenge, I booked tickets for a performance which started at midnight. I managed to persuade (Bully? Encourage?) a surprisingly large number of people to come with me – although we all got more nervous as the production got closer and we remembered quite how difficult it was to get transport around London at 3 in the morning. A couple even went to length of booking themselves a weekend in Bath just to avoid the issue!

It was an exceptionally damp night, too. We weren’t standing (I’m not that much of a masochist) but the groundlings did look very damp, and our view of the stage (otherwise pretty good) was interrupted by the occasional raindrop dripping from the thatch. In the Globe, somehow all of this just gets transmuted into extra atmosphere though – along with the moment where Eve Best leaned against a pillar and it gave a rather ominous crack.

Eve Best was Cleopatra and Clive Wood was Antony – and they were a truly magnificent pairing. I was already a massive fan of Eve Best – not just Nurse Jackie, I saw her as Beatrice at the Globe in 2012 – and she didn’t disappoint, being as mercurial and magisterial as the role demands. I didn’t know what to expect from Clive Wood (I vaguely remembered him in London’s Burning – although, unhelpfully, he didn’t feature in the recent re-runs on London Live) and in the end he delivered a really powerful Antony, one who was perhaps a bit bluff and definitely stupider than Cleopatra (he reminded me of Jack Aubrey in that respect – incredibly talented in his milieu, and somewhat out of his depth with the womenfolk…). Other notable cast members included Phil Daniels, doing a lovely cockney Enobarbus (and doing it well, mind you), and the splendidly named Jolyon Coy (who looked like a young Rupert Penry-Jones) as Octavian.

I will admit that this is probably the play I’ve seen so far that I’ve followed least well – no previous familiarity, combined with the lateness of the hour and the imperfect acoustic of the Globe means that I wouldn’t care to be closely examined on every word of the dialogue – but it is one I look forward to coming back to. Like many Globe productions, it didn’t feel like it had a specific direction it was trying to take. This wasn’t about subtext, or drawing parallels, this was just about telling the story – albeit telling it well.

I always enjoy the Globe’s economy of prop/scenery, which came to the fore here. Scenes in Alexandria were heralded only by two large carpets dangling from the ceiling, while Rome got a couple of very fine SPQR banners. Best was the bit where Cleopatra made her entrance on stage lying on a bed being pulled by burly slave boys. Eve seemed to being enjoying it every bit as much as the rest of us would!

In fact, the whole show was a bit more of a giggle than I thought it would be for a traditional Shakespearean tragedy (final body count – at least 5 named characters). As well as Eve playing the disturbing indications of poor structural integrity at the Globe for giggles, Clive managed to get a laugh out of Antony’s botched suicide attempt. And the daft scene with the snake-seller was actually written in by Shakespeare, so there’s some mood whiplash for you… It did make me wonder if they always did it like that, or if this was a special for their second performance of the night – I suppose the only way to find out would be to go again!

All in all, though, it was extremely impressive acting for a graveyard slot. One of my companions (temporarily with a crutch for their knee) got to take the backstage lift up to where we were sitting – they said they got to go through the area where the actors were getting ready, which was pretty cool (apparently no-one was juggling like in Shakespeare in Love though).

Forgot to fit in above – the Globe does really good all senses action – with incense for Alexandria (bit disturbing as I’m not sure church was the vibe they were going for) and the wonderful music they always have. You also get everyone dancing at the end of the show, which does soften the blow. Perhaps someone should have suggested it to the National Theatre for Lear…


 

Guardian Review here http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2014/may/30/antony-and-cleopatra-review-shakespeares-globe – until re-reading it I’d somehow managed to forget Clive Wood’s bare chest at the beginning of the play (probably a good thing) and Eve Best toying with various members of the audience – who all looked absolutely thrilled…