Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Theatre: Antony and Cleopatra

Last night a friend and I took a trip to Stratford to see Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. It was the first time I have been to the RSC's Swan theatre, and I have to say that it is a small but fantastic venue. It had an intimate and traditional feel, and looking around I couldn't see a bad seat in the house. What's more the tickets were a bargain, and the seat's relatively comfy.

I always enjoy Stratford at night - I think there is something rather magical about it. As we walked along the river and into the old church (which is now the theatre), passing various Shakespeare-inspired bars and restaurants, my friend and I marvelled at how lucky we were (particularly as English students) to live near a town with such literary heritage and beautiful surroundings.

As for the play - wonderful. Neither of us had seen or read Antony and Cleopatra before. We had hoped the production would include a traditional setting as we were excited by the prospect of a stage alight with the numerous rich colours and fabrics of the Egyptian costume. However, Director Michael Boyd, opted for a modern-dress version. The staging, was also modern and minimal, including only a few chairs that were carried on and off, and scaffolding in the centre of the stage creating a higher, bare platform. Yet, somehow this worked. It served as an entirely blank canvas that the performers could bounce off.

And bounce off it they did. Katy Stephens was spellbinding as Cleopatra. Her energy onstage was something to be admired, she skipped, jumped and walked on stage with a light-footed grace and captured all the contradictions of Egypt's Queen. Stephens' Cleopatra is feisty, dramatic and calculating, yet romantic, weak and tender. One thing the audience can be sure of is Cleopatra's sexuality. Stephens ensures sex is in the essence of her Cleopatra, from her walk to her clothing to her deliverance of lines.

As one of Shakespeare's tragedies, I was surprised by how much comedy this play had to offer. Rather than just an examination of the devious nature of politics, the play explores love and emphasises how Antony and Cleopatra lose their way to lust and even self-delusion. Moments such as Cleopatra's summoning and interrogation of a messenger over Antony's new bride Octavia, adding light to the play, making it more accessible to the modern audience, while showcasing the ability of the cast for all genres.

The incorporation of dance in the battle scenes was mesmerising and unusual. I watched in awe as Cleopatra and her army took slow but steady steps off stage, waving white scarves above their heads. This repetitive movement served to represent Cleopatra's fleets abandoning Antony at sea in the heat of battle. But this form was used on such rare occasion that it sat at odds with the rest of the production; if more had been made of dance it would have been an eloquent addition.

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