Antony and Cleopatra, Chichester Festival Theatre


Kim Cattrall has doffed the black wig and reverted to blonde for this revival at Chichester of Janet Suzman's production of Antony and Cleopatra which began life two years ago at the Liverpool Playhouse. She has also gained a new paramour in Michael Pennington's Antony whose long snowy-white locks would not look amiss on King Lear.

Cattrall's Cleopatra is first seen rising through the floor resplendent in a golden mask and cloak like some rock goddess (indeed the armour she later dons would be the envy of Madonna). Both spectacular and faintly tongue-in-cheek, this is a strikingly apt opening tableau for a play that is so exercised by the gap between myth and reality. Age may not wither this Cleopatra, but she's shown to be a middle-aged working Queen who needs to wear reading glasses when signing official documents. 

Moving fluently between the fleshpots of the east, signalled by oriental lamps and divans, and a severe brick-walled Rome, the production is keen to convey an intelligent heroine, who never really loses sight of her own political agenda through passion. She has enough nous to wince at the errors perpetrated by her bungling lover. Cattrall admirably manages to radiate mercurial wit and wiliness without lapsing into any of those tired cliches of camp-diva capriciousness. And she rises to a radiant exaltation when she hymns his glorious attributes in the final scene.  

But while it is good to be reminded of the irony that Cleopatra is never fonder of Antony than when he is not there, you cannot believe there was ever a spark of sexual chemistry between Cattrall's queen of old Nile and Pennington's hero who, when he whoops and dances and tries to get the former juices going, seems less like a faded romantic idol than an incipiently senile embarrassment.  It's the interpretation and not this still-vigorous actor that is at fault here and, with his superb verse-speaking, he likewise comes into own when out of Cleopatra's range, especially when this veteran campaigner burns with shame at the way his declining fortunes have corrupted honest men.  

The best performance is that of Martin Hutson who brings unexpected wit and sharp ambiguity to the role of Octavius Caesar. He lets you see the blazing passion behind this icily priggish bureaucrat who flinches when he hears of Antony's decadent exploits but who also wipes the blood off the latter's sword and respectfully pockets the stained handkerchief like a holy relic. 

To 29 Sept; 01243 781312