A slight detour from my normal posts which directly relate to my research, last night I went to Liverpool's Playhouse Theatre to watch their production of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, directed by Janet Suzman.
Kim Cattrall as Cleopatra revels in the humour of the early acts, portraying the Egyptian Queen as a carefree spirit, luxuriating in the banter of her court (see the scenes with the eunuch singer) and with Antony. So obviously at home playing to the comic aspects I was initially worried that she wouldn't be able to support the weight of the heavier, darker material of the play's climax. Suzman is astute in her balancing of the mood however, as even in the turmoil and misery of the second half she picks out Shakespeare's black comedy. Rather than jar with the tone of the play, such an action prevents the second part feeling at odds with the, at times, whimsical first half. Complementing this directorial choice, Cattrall finds considerable acting chops during the interval and the Cleopatra who emerges wearing a breastplate (albeit all too briefly), and rouses the armies of Egypt, is a Cleopatra who is believable in her grief and ultimately in her death.
|Kim Catrall and Jeffery Kissoon, (c) Stephen Vaughan|
Meanwhile, Jeffery Kissoon is a bubbling frenzy of a Mark Antony, frothing and flailing in his grief and anger, swaggering and magnanimous in his glory and his revelling. As the play opens we find him drunk and asleep at the foot of Cleopatra's lounger, his ample belly rising and falling as he snores in his sleep. Armed with a hip flask and a sword this is Antony the party animal, the man who has found love and a rich life in a distant land, who is willing to burn everything he once new for a new life. Kissoon plays hi part with passion and vim, presenting Antony as a man who's an old man playing the young man's games of war and partying, but still holding his own until the play's finale when he crumbles under the strain exploding in fits of rage and tears.
Another stand out performance has to be Martin Hutson as Octavius Caesar, the man who will become Augustus - the first Emperor of Rome. Hutson captures Caesar the political animal, something made clear when he first appears not in the military uniforms of his followers, but in a suit. This Caesar is meticulous, almost anal, in everything he does, constantly conscious that (a bit of meta-theatrical irony for you) he's playing a role, careful not to let normal soldiers see him weep for Mark Antony, or loose control after having a drink. Whether by direction, or Hutson's talent (or, more likely a blend of the two), Octavius Caesar in this production is exactly the smooth-operating, verging on slimy, character that history shows him to be.
The set is a marvellous contrivance of shining black and burnished gold. Brick and metal and glass. Stylish and more than fit for purpose, it blends a modern industrial edge (large girders sprout from the far right and left of the stage, with a gangway providing the top edge of a frame within a frame) with Eastern mystique (ornate lamps hang down in Cleopatra's palace with drapes and upholstery to match the black and gold set. Similarly blended are the costumes that the character's wear: the soldiers wear modern stab vests and wield automatic rifles, whilst also wearing breastplates, similarly Cleopatra wears believable robes as well as black frame glasses and stiletto heels. Such juxtapositions remind us of the timeless nature of Shakespeare's material, channelling the ancient, with the modern through the early 17th century, but Suzman also uses the costumes to another effect. At the beginning of the play Cleopatra and her attendants are wearing white and are carefree and laughing, but by the end they wear the black of funeral mourners; mirroring this, Caesar wears a dark suit and his men are in black dress uniforms, but by the time they enter Cleopatra's monument they're wearing polished breastplates which reflect the stage lights like mirrors - effectively representing Cleopatra's waning glory as Caesar ascends to become the brighter star which eclipses her, just as Rome would come to eclipse Egypt.
Overall, it was an enjoyable play that still managed to find a few surprises in a story well known and often retold (and I don't mean the casting of a man, Mark Sutherland, as Caesar's sister Octavia). A highly recommended viewing for anyone that has the time to go and see it before its run ends on the not too distant 12th November.