February 18, 2007, by Peter Kirwan
Antony & Cleopatra (RSC) @ The Novello Theatre
Friday night was the chance to revisit, for one final time, the excellent ‘Antony and Cleopatra’, bookending my Complete Works marathon quite nicely with the same production, seen for a third time almost a year after I first saw it in the Swan.
It was very good, but I was disappointed at how much its translation to proscenium arch stage had hurt the production. This ‘Antony’ thrived on its domestic scenes, at the intimate portrait of two lovers and rulers trying to reconcile their personal and political interests. On the big stage, though, they never quite managed to evoke the same intimacy as the Swan allowed them to.
Elsewhere, the highlights of this production remained in place. John Hopkins’ Octavius was as twitchy and uncertain as before, coming into his own in the final third of the play. Ken Bones also dominated the stage as Enobarbus, including a moment I hadn’t noticed before which hinted at an ambiguous sexuality as he moved to kiss Menas, before the two of them withdrew to Minas’ cabin. And, of course, Harriet Walter and Patrick Stewart gave superb performances, emphasising both the physical age and the mental youth of the characters.
As in the London ‘Much Ado’, the comedy seemed to have been somewhat dumbed down for the London audience, particularly in the character of Lepidus who had developed an irritating habit of falling over for added laughs. More distressingly, the audience appeared to find quite moving moments, suh as the suicide of Eros, funny rather than horrifying.
Disappointed as I was that the play had suffered in translation, it remained some of the best recent RSC work, and thoroughly deserved the sold-out house who received it. It also, however, confirmed in my mind my belief that the Swan and Courtyard are far better environments for playing Shakespeare- even five rows from the front, I felt distanced from the action. For that reason, I’m looking forward to ‘The Tempest’ next month, which was originally a proscenium arch production and therefore will hopefully not lose anything from the Stratford production.