Antony and Cleopatra, Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Wednesday 12 May 2010
It's Macbeth that is supposed to be jinxed. But lately you could be forgiven for thinking that it's Mark Antony that has become the liability, luck-wise.
In the past few years, I have seen an actor deliver the funeral oration in Julius Caesar with his leg in a plaster-cast; in the Roman Tragedies at the Barbican last autumn, Hans Kesting delivered Antony from a wheelchair; and now we have the case of Darrell D'Silva in Michael Boyd's fast-paced but thin-blooded modern-dress Antony and Cleopatra for the RSC. The leading actor had surgery after an accident in rehearsal with a prop gun. But though the only trace now is a small bandage, the production is dogged by problems that are quite independent of this mishap.
Obstinate question-marks dangle over the casting, staging and conception of the political world in this insistently disappointing evening. Kathryn Hunter, in the role of Cleopatra, cuts a compelling figure as a diminutive, wiry and compulsive drama queen. Gifted at grotesque comedy, Hunter pushes Cleopatra's lightning mood-swings towards black farce to the point where this queen seems near-certifiably psychotic. But it's hard to believe that this Cleopatra could ever have infatuated D'Silva's intelligent, well-spoken but rather middle-class and middle-scale Antony. There's no erotic charge and Hunter comes across as a crank in the grip of a demented Cleopatra-complex.
There's an undermining edge of almost-funny hysteria in John Mackay's puritanical Octavius when he struggles to square heartless action to public image. But too often, the politics in this production are presented ineptly. If the troublesome Pompey (Clarence Smith) had been as ostentatiously "dangerous" as he is here and his henchmen such a bunch of machine-gun-toting thugs, the triumvirs would have needed to be mad to board his galleon, let alone drunkenly party on it.
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