Antony and Cleopatra

Reviewer's Rating

The RSC’s Rome season, which kicks off with Antony and Cleopatra and Julius Ceasar, pitches itself as a series of Shakespeare’s ‘most political and bloody thrillers’. Which seems fair enough for a group of plays about regime change and factional rivalry, in which personal ambitions are pitched against lofty ideals.

There’s a lot that’s really strong about Iqbal Khan’s production: it’s clear, to begin with. It’s also full of warm, sympathetic character portraits. Josette Simon as Cleopatra is very strong: effortlessly handling each and every wild turn between haughty indifference, passion and grief. And I understood nearly every line of Shakespeare’s text as spoken by Antony Byrne’s Antony – which is a rare…

Robert Innes Hopkins’s design is a bit uninspired: evocative of golden-era Hollywood film sets (think Ben-Hur…) with its opulence and picture-book feel. Pretty, but schmeh… Laura Mvula’s score, however, is fantastic: rich, unusual, at times really arresting.

This isn’t a production that makes a statement (so the Rome season pitch is maybe a bit misleading…). But that’s fine, I guess. I only really balked at its innocuousness when instead of challenging the crude orientalism at the heart of Shakespeare’s play (the exotic East versus the austere Roman Empire) it seemed to obediently affirm these stereotypes. But then I guess the play requires radical uprooting to really get around this…

Otherwise, it’s a sound production, if a little unimaginative.