Tweetingit: 3* A well-drilled, highly talented cast go through the numbers and deliver a slick production. But this feels like an overly sterile approach to an infrequently staged play.
Well three hours four minutes and thirty five seconds is a bit of a stretch even for a battle hardened theatre goer like me. But I was undaunted by the marathon that is Antony and Cleopatra. Watching online is a less onerous prospect as it can be split into bite sized viewing portions.
Even so, a highly efficient production by the RSC at Stratford-Upon-Avon is still heavy going. There is a slavish commitment to detail that adds little to the narrative and sails dangerously close to self-indulgence. Tony and Cleo is essentially a love job hovering between tragedy and history – a tale supercharged by the greatest power brokers of the ancient world.
Mark Antony (Anthony Byrne) had been smitten by Queen Cleopatra of Egypt (Josette Simon). This has caused him to neglect the day job as triumvir of the Roman Republic. Co-rulers Octavius (Ben Allen) and Lepidus (Patrick Drury) are not best pleased. A challenge to the triumvirate is led by disaffected senator Sextus Pompey (David Burnett). Antony is subsequently called back to Rome to see off the challenge despite the pleas of Cleopatra to stay with her. An uneasy truce in the triumvirate depends on Antony’s marriage to Octavia (Lucy Phelps) the sister of Octavius. However, Cleopatra flies into a jealous rage as Antony is circled by warring factions, torn by his passion for Cleopatra and loyalty to Rome what will become of him?
A play with dynamic potential is fatally undermined by revisionist theories of Roman history. The play’s length is also a major handicap with many superfluous scenes that should have been culled from the finished piece. It is more for aficionados who will appreciate the excruciatingly slow pace of the narrative. An RSC production implies a marque of quality which is rightly earned. However, it all feels terribly clinical and formularised. The RSC generally work from a set list of plays and use the same pool of actors and creatives, they work with scripts that have remained unchanged for 400 years. It just feels too safe to continually churn out productions untroubled by innovation or experiment. What you see is what you get and it is very good, but could use a dash of inspiration sometimes.
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Iqbal Khan
Producer: Griselda Yorke/RSC
Composer: Laura Mvula
Music Director: Bruce O’Neil