Antony & Cleopatra at the Barbican
The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Antony & Cleopatra, directed by Iqbal Khan, offers a fresh, vibrant interpretation of the classic. Performed in traditional Shakespearean dress to modern music by Laura Mvula – and adding comedic elements to conventionally dramatic scenes – this remarkable production presents this timeless work with an original perspective and sensibility.
The story takes place following Roman Emperor Julius Caesar’s assassination and the rise to power of Mark Antony (Antony Byrne). Embroiled in a passionate love affair with Egyptian Queen Cleopatra (Josette Simon), Antony is so overtaken with ardour that his energies are less focused on his kingdom, and he is racked with conflicting emotion – a battle between two obsessions: love and military zeal.
This contemporary version of Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy presents a Rome where masculine dominance is expressed in the setting of a sauna, and scenes of naval battle are portrayed using toy ships. Cleopatra’s world is quintessentially feminine, as like a goddess she reclines on regal structures wearing sumptuous, sensuous fabrics.
Simon’s brilliantly performed Cleopatra is charismatic, vivacious and stylish, while somewhat eccentric in her fervent emotional volatility. She is the ultimate seductress, whose calculated yet effortless charms radiate with power. She is the antitheses of Antony’s patriarchal milieu – oblivious to it and conquering it. Yet she openly admits her lures are constructs, as she finally removes all adornments, revealing that her lustrous hair is a wig. Byrne is impressive as a tormented and confused Mark Antony whose intensely political masculine persona contrasts with his helpless adoration of Cleopatra. The obtuseness of his military nature is well interpreted in its exposition of his vulnerability to the Egyptian queen’s wiles, which lead to his ultimate downfall. Ben Allen is highly effective in his depiction of the plotting Octavius, a man always in a state of controlled but extreme agitation. As a whole the performances are excellent and seamless.
Set designer Robert Innes Hopkins’s lush, evocative scenery tremendously impacts this piece. The magnificent exotic fabrics, luxurious throne and sumptuous surroundings of Cleopatra’s domain establish a compelling contrast to Mark Antony’s stark environment with its Roman symbols of might and prestige: sturdy marble columns that evolve to a state of disintegration, graphically symbolising the destruction of their world.
Intriguing, unique, absorbing and eloquent, Antony & Cleopatra at the Barbican is a fascinating and entertaining rendition of one of Shakespeare’s most beloved love stories.
Photo: Helen Maybanks
Antony & Cleopatra is at the Barbican from 30th November 2017 until 20th January 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a clip from the show here: