Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare's Globe, theatre review: 'Exquisitely understated'

3.00

Clive Wood and Eve Best tackle two of Shakespeare's leading roles

In a departure from custom at Shakespeare's Globe, the company do not perform a rousing life-goes-on-style jig at the end of Jonathan Munby's revival of Antony and Cleopatra.

Perhaps it's because, contrariwise, the production opens with an extended orgiastic dance in the fleshpots of Egypt and includes a stamping all-male bacchanalian revel and manipulative drinking contest in the episode on Pompey's barge.

Or maybe a closing dance is dispensed with because Munby does not want to violate the rapt, spellbinding mood that Eve Best's bewitching Cleopatra creates by her stage-managed suicide. I have never seen the transition from living woman to regalia-laden icon effected with such uncanny stillness or with such a quietly painful mix of triumph and pathos as when this Cleopatra congeals into the statue of herself.

Best is a supreme mistress at working the Globe space with her gift for being at once playful and commanding and her witty, wonderfully unforced audience rapport. In her Duchess of Cambridge coiffure and white dress, she's a curiously English-seeming “serpent of old Nile”, suggesting an alumna of Bedales who's gone mildly hippy or the black sheep first cousin of Shakespeare's Rosalind – and this, despite the warbling eunuch and the bare chested flunkies who haul her round on a bed and keep her cool with pulley-operated carpet-fans.  

But she brings a terrific impatient energy to Cleopatra's capricious changes of mood and a wry spontaneity of spirit to the compulsive histrionics that ensures the performance steers well clear of the terminally self-knowing raddled drag queen act. Her flirting with the groundlings (there's a moment when she even seizes one man in a kiss) is funny and charming but, though it's true that Cleopatra likes and needs an audience, it's more doubtful that she would ever stoop to please it.  And Best is not endlessly tantalizing.

Phil Daniels as Enobarbus, Sirine Saba as Charmian and Daniel Rabin as Agrippa in Jonathan Munby's Antony and Cleopatra Phil Daniels as Enobarbus, Sirine Saba as Charmian and Daniel Rabin as Agrippa in Jonathan Munby's Antony and Cleopatra

Clive Wood is a natural casting as Antony – a sexy ageing lion torn between two worlds (the severity of Rome is here represented by black Jacobean dress with dazzling white ruffs) and weighed down by the contrast between his past glory and present shame.

As the character vacillates between duty and pleasure, Wood's fine performance is greatly aided by the confident geographical sweep of the production and the bold way that it allows locations and scenes to overlap with each other.

The resulting stage pictures have a strong diagrammatic force – the bleak, consolatory embrace in Rome between Jolyon Coy's prissy, peevish Octavius and his sister whom Antony has just deserted engulfed  by shamelessly golden procession in Egypt, led by the title pair; Enobarbus, beautifully spoken and given a nice sardonic edge by Phil Daniels, looking to be in neither place simultaneously (so to speak) as the friend driven to switch sides. 

The production, which is patchy at the moment, has been dogged by ill health, with Wood (who is still a bit under-powered) missing several previews because of a virus. The exquisitely understated manner in which Best negotiates the various indignities littering Cleopatra's path to apotheosis in the last act will be even finer when the Snake Man is back from sick leave. 

How admirable of the Globe, though, to forge ahead with the press night undaunted.

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

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable