Antony and Cleopatra is one of the most dramatic stories in history and literature, so it should come as no surprise that before the premiere of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s show things took a dramatic turn. The company’s Antony, played by Darrell D’Silva, shot himself in the hand during a technical rehearsal and required surgery for his wound meaning the opening had to be delayed. The accident is a fitting illustration of the play: director Michael Boyd aims, shoots, but unfortunately misfires.
The play tells the story of Antony, one of the three rulers of the Roman Empire, who begins an affair with Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt, and is caught with her between desire and duty. Michael Boyd has been Artistic Director of the RSC since 2002, and this is his third production he has directed with the company. Whilst D’Silva gives an outstanding performance as Antony, it is Kathryn Hunter’s Cleopatra that feels inaccurate. Hunter is a fine actress, she was the first woman to play King Lear and went onto play Richard III, but here she is not fully used.
Cleopatra is a melodramatic actress herself with a mercurial personality. When we are told that Antony “has given his empire up to a whore”, we expect to see a woman who is worth leaving his superpower home and wife for. So she should be a woman, as in the text, that is powerful, possessive, and incredibly sexual. As today’s power couples have females, from Michelle Obama to Angelina Jolie, who gain equal if not more interest than their male partners, it is odd that Cleopatra (of all women!) and her sexual energy is reduced to quick laughs. For example, when Cleopatra hears from a messenger the news that Antony is married her jealousy is delivered as a joke rather than a threat: “though I am mad, I will not bite him”.
Tom Piper, Boyd’s long-term collaborator, has designed a fitting set and lavish costumes. It is the modern-dress, in fact, that is hard to ignore. Cleopatra’s sexy trench coat and boots to sensual mermaid-like sari outfits bring the scenes alive. The tight and speedy fight scenes are also a treat. An ambitious play, it has all the blasts of a gun but is sadly filled with blanks.
Runs till 28 August.
To see or not to see: * *