Antony and Cleopatra, Globe, London<br/> Measure for Measure, Theatre Royal, Bath<br/> The Rocky Horror Show, Playhouse, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

If I were a soothsayer, I'd say this bodes ill. Antony and Cleopatra is the first production that Dominic Dromgoole has chosen to direct as the Globe's new AD and it is woefully, alarmingly underpowered. Since his appointment, he may have talked a good fight about having a long-standing passion for the Bard, but no evidence surfaces here of textual insights or inspired staging ideas. What you get is a jumble of Egyptiabethan costumes and bouts of drumming and shouting from the outer courtyard passed off as major battles. The only moving scene is the curtain call when mournful ethnic ululations modulate into a vibrant stamping dance by the ensemble's Roman soldiers.

As for the promise that Dromgoole's regime, succeeding Mark Rylance's, would herald a new level of casting, you're sometimes left wondering if this meant a new low. The idea that Nicholas Jones's instantly forgettable Antony might ever have bestrode the ocean like a colossus merely seems ridiculous. Cleopatra has surely got the wrong man, for Jones ambles around exuding all the lusty charisma of a librarian, with barely enough authority to be a backbencher let alone a military world leader. Dromgoole has spotted that this play embraces extraordinary conjunctions of high tragedy and human comedy, but Jones's feeble clowning in his suicide scene - failing to impale himself with an "Ow" - just looks ham-fisted. One pines for Patrick Stewart's superb decaying lion of an Antony in Gregory Doran's current RSC production.

Dromgoole isn't even in Doran's league, leaving his cast to be either muddy or coarse in their character delineations and allowing wonderful lines to go for nought. Jack Laskey's Octavius Caesar - Antony's young rival in the triumvirate - is a greasy-haired dullard. Fred Ridgeway's Enobarbus merely sounds vaguely appreciative as he describes Cleopatra in the barge she sat in, like a burnished throne - bland compared to the startlingly cynical reading of that famous speech in the 1999 Rylance production.

Frances Barber is better, by comparison, as Cleopatra. She raises some raucous laughs with her histrionics - lots of flouncing faints plus instant recoveries - but you never believe she harbours any genuine love for Antony. Hers is a cheap shallow Cleo, the Joan Collins of Old Nile, oversexed but crucially low on charm. Nor has she any chance of gaining tragic poignancy at the end when she is robed for death in a see-through black slip which, ahem, only draws attention to her pubes and strips her of regal dignity. Here's hoping that Dromgoole is on a steep learning curve.

Meanwhile Peter Hall - whofounded the RSC in 1960 - continues to produce a whole rep season in Bath, beginning this summer with Measure for Measure. Hall's staging has a certain strength in its simplicity. The vice-ridden city - which James Laurenson's Duke leaves to be cleaned up by his second-in-command, Richard Dormer's Angelo - looks like the lower depths of a well shaft: a dark space encircled by gleaming black walls. Mostly monochrome but with lacy flourishes, the Jacobean costumes anticipate the 17th century's intensifying conflicts between those of puritanical and of more cavalier morals. This play seems strikingly contemporary, too, with state clamp-downs leading to the heavy-handed arrest of citizens who've done little wrong; with heated judicial disagreements about liberal tolerance and the spread of amorality; with revelations of top-level corruption and, oh yes, a sexually dodgy deputy leader.

The trouble is that Hall's directing often seems perfunctory, with surprisingly scant attention paid to some line-readings and pacing. Lacking psychological complexity, Dormer's Angelo only seethes superficially about his sudden lust for the would-be nun Isabella. Nor does Laurenson fully bring out the Duke's dark side, yet he sporadically reveals a deeply troubled conscience. Andrea Riseborough's Isabella is, in turn, occasionally halting, but she is convincingly adolescent.

Her slight physique combines with a strong sense of righteous outrage and assumed social equality, arguing fiercely against Angelo's unjust authority. Also her appalled stony silence - reducing the Duke to exit humiliated after his presumptuous public marriage proposal - creates a powerfully unhappy ending.

The Rocky Horror Show famously started out as a sexually outré romp at the Royal Court in 1973 with its tongue in every cheek available. The storyline is scrappy and Christopher Luscombe's West End revival can look shabbily low budget. Nonetheless, this mock-gothic fantasy still has the subconscious depth charge of a fairytale mixed with the flamboyance of camp cabaret as the cross-dressing vamp, David Bedella's Frank 'N' Furter, gets down and dirty with the squeaky clean duo, Janet and Brad, somewhere in Transexualvania. That said, what's most weird now is the conjunction of wildness with the formalised rote of this cult show's obsessive fans, all chipping in with the de rigueur catcalls. Steve Pemberton (in rep) as the narrator was amusingly dry. While choreographically inhibited by his corset and glittering platform shoes, Bedella looks like a splendid cross between Mick Jagger and Princess Margaret, with a startling bass voice. And the rock'n'roll songs are still a blast.

k.bassett@independent.co.uk

Measure for Measure' (01225 448844) to 12 August; 'Antony and Cleopatra' (020 7401 9919) to 8 October; 'The Rocky Horror Show' (0870 060 6631) to 22 July

Comments