October 15, 2006, by Peter Kirwan

Antony and Cleopatra (RSC) @ The Swan Theatre

Last night’s play was the wonderful, universally lauded ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ starring Patrick Stewart and Harriet Walter, which I reviewed way back when I first started this blog. Then, though, I was standing in the top gallery of the Swan. Tonight, I was on the front row, at times mere inches from the actors. And it was wonderful.

Being up so close allowed me to see so much more of the performances, whereas the top view last time meant I caught far fewer of the subtleties, and instead focussed on production design.

One of the highlights was John Hopkin’s Octavius- a wonderfully nervy interpretation of the young ruler as a man coming to terms with his new power, incredibly intimidated by the older general and treading a thin line between goodness and command. His collapse onto the stage on the news of Antony’s death and his subsequent shaky demands that Cleopatra be treated with all care summed up this performance excellently.

Harriet Walter and Patrick Stewart were as good as I remembered, and a talk this morning with Harriet Walter brought out some interesting titbits, such as the fact that the two actors barely know each other. On stage, though, their chemistry was perfect and even the slower scenes were brought to life.

This was what set the play apart from the two other productions the same company have done- the pace of the whole play was terrific, keeping the audience rapt at all times. From the light comedy of Cleopatra’s scenes with the Messenger to the high formality of the suicide scene, to the shock of Eros’ throat-slashing, the fantastic drinking scene set on suspended tables and the gloriously subtle yet powerful politics of the triumvirate, every moment was superbly handled and hugely entertaining.

The production is now off to America, and then to London- where it’ll be interesting to see how it changes for a proscenium arch theatre, with nothing of the intimacy of last night. I’m really grateful for the chance to see this production a second time, especially in such an amazing seat- and the opportunities to talk to Harriet Walter this morning and then do workshops with Assistant Director Steve Marmion in the afternoon were really helpful in giving a further insight to the production as well.

Posted in Theatre review