Review: Antony & Cleopatra – RSC @ The Roundhouse ***

The RSC Artistic Director Michael Boyd at the helm; the sublime Kathryn Hunter as Cleopatra; the towering Darrell D’Silva as Antony.  Surely the recipe for an Antony & Cleopatra to talk about. Well, yes, but for the wrong reasons.

Where did it go awry? Why does Boyd’s modern-dress Antony & Cleopatra feel laboured and slow? It doesn’t help that Boyd seems reluctant to trust the intelligence of his audience, instead preferring to underscore every utterance of import, that is to say, every utterance, with a chime. Compound that with the desert combats of Antony’s army, the Blair-esque posturing of John Mackay’s Caesar, and the Tory cabinet pinstripe attire of the Roman generals, and everything feels a little bit too much like the concept has overrun the performance.

In preferring to play the political upheaval, Boyd has abandoned the poetry.

Hunter is elfish and angular as Cleopatra, a skittish flibbertigibbet, darting nervously around the stage. Strangely, it is a performance which, when taken alone, is enticing, crude and rather delicious – an Eastern treat. In contrast D’Silva’s looming, bluff masculinity is rugged and swarthy, more warrior than lover. His performance too, is convincing, when taken singly. It is together that they fail. There is no chemistry between these mythic lovers, no sense of sexual passion. Part of this is because their self-mythology is curiously absent, this Antony and Cleopatra lack poetry and therefore lack status. In preferring to play the political upheaval, Boyd has abandoned the poetry.

The choreography of the fight sequences seems too stagey for the violent world that Boyd is attempting to create. The Egypt scenes lack glitter and energy while Rome is ponderous and stodgy. Brian Doherty as Enobarbus finds the poetry in a layered performance and Greg Hicks is particularly compelling as a louche Soothsayer, while Tunji Kasim is rather sweetly attractive as Mardian. Despite these, one finds oneself focussing on Hunter’s myriad of costume changes, and small details in set or props, rather than on the action or the relationships.

With any other company this would be a decent attempt, but from the RSC we expect more. In this, the sum of its parts are greater than the whole. Following Goold’s triumphant Romeo & Juliet, this pair of star cross’d lovers seem old and tired by comparison.

*** (3 stars)
Runs until  30th December
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