Antony And Cleopatra, Novello Theatre, London

4.00

Lovers excel in frenetic staging

When the RSC's Much Ado About Nothing transferred from Stratford-upon-Avon to the West End last month, queues formed for returns. Now Antony and Cleopatra, which got the Complete Works season off to a rollicking good start back in April, arrives in London. There is no reason that this gripping production should not achieve the same feat.

Gregory Doran's relentlessly pacey production bestrides comedy, tragedy, history and politics; having moved from the intimate Swan, it easily fills its larger, gilded surroundings at the Novello. Driven along by Adrian Lee's frenetic score of taiko drum beats and whinnying horns, the action rarely lets up and the actors hit the stage running at the start of every scene, ready to attack.

Their swift progress is helped along by Stephen Brimson Lewis' simple but effective set. A splodgy approximation of a map acts as the backdrop, changing colour according to location, in harmony with the colour-coded costumes, from Egyptian gold to Tyrian purple and, during battle, blood red.

The lack of specific geographical details in the setting acts as a reminder that Shakespeare's play is more concerned with the personal - an eternal love, the irresistible power of a woman - than with any political narrative.

Harriet Walter and Patrick Stewart are excellent as the eponymous lovers. From the opening scenes, their childish chemistry erases the years as they tickle, whip, pet and devour one another, more often than not in front of their embarrassed retinue. The game of sexual cat and mouse played out in the first half of the play has more than a touch of farce about it, with entrances and exits coming in dizzying succession and some heavy-handed innuendo.

Walter is not immediately striking as the Egyptian queen, lacking in the stature and sultriness traditionally associated with the role, but when she reclines in her luminous gold cloak, she really does take on the bewitching mystery of a Sphinx. Her capriciousness is a joy to behold, a petulant moue etched permanently on her face, she delivers her frequently contradictory lines with the necessary quick-fire verve.

When she is absent from the stage, a macho air prevails, particularly in the revels scene when the gathered males beat out the intoxicating rhythms of their drinking songs on a swaying barge. Doran's production has a high degree of camp, with oiled bare chests, muscly legs clad in leather boots, studded cuffs and a knowing humour penetrating most scenes. It points out the irony that for all their political posturing, their war comes down to a battle to win fair maiden and their undoing comes at the hands of a diminutive, crop-haired woman.

Stewart is eminently watchable, proving himself more than worthy of the promotion to leading man, having played Enobarbus to Alan Howard's Antony in Peter Brook's 1978 production at the RSC. His Antony is mercurial, moving effectively from playboy general, giddy with lust and power, to an ageing drunk in a sweat-stained tunic, rocking on his heels and cradling his head in his hands as he loses his self-control.

Conversely, John Hopkins' Octavius visibly grows up on stage; from a callow, nervy wannabe, prone to panicky decision-making, he transforms into a powerful leader of men, concerned with his historical legacy. Around them, there is not one weak link; every member of the cast making Shakespeare's language come alive.

In the second half comes the headlong rush towards the final tragedy. But in Doran's arch production, Antony's death is tinged with black comedy. As his near lifeless body is winched up to Cleopatra's monument - his queen holding sway over him even in his final moments - he tries in vain to get a dying word in. Cleopatra's death on the other hand, a masterclass in delayed gratification by the playwright coming two scenes after that of her beloved, has all the poise and beauty of tragedy. The moment, when it finally arrives, is suitably majestic and dripping in gold.

Until 17 Feb (0870 950 0940)

Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
'Africa' will be Angelina Jolie's fifth film as a director

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Arts and Entertainment
Bryan Cranston will play federal agent Robert Mazur in The Infiltrator

Books
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

    Immigration: Obama's final frontier

    The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

    Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

    You know that headache you’ve got?

    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

    Scoot commute

    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
    Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

    The Paul Robeson story

    How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
    10 best satellite navigation systems

    Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

    Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
    Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

    Paul Scholes column

    England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

    Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
    Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

    Frank Warren column

    Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines