Theatre: Misplaced imagination
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA RSC STRATFORD
Saturday 26 June 1999
After the instructive fiasco of last year's National Theatre version, starring Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman, the RSC may have taken comfort from the fact that they could hardly do worse. But this main stage production fails to be the glorious exorcism of its predecessor that one had hoped for. True, it is considerably more imaginative, though the imagination in it often feels misplaced. One of its curiosities is that each person in the play's succession of suicides calmly rises, at the moment of extinction, and walks off. Even Cleopatra does a bunk, after doffing her golden crown and cloak, from her own carefully stage-managed apotheosis.
If this epidemic of premature exiting, leaving only the husks behind, is supposed to suggest a haunting emptiness within the gaudy show of legend, then it is both heavy-handed and insufficiently alert to the potential comedy of it all. "Where's the Queen?" demands the guard who rushes into the suicide scene. Here, you expect the reply: "Oh, cripes, she was here a moment ago, honest..."
Yolanda Sonnabend's set is dominated by a curve of tilting screens that are both see-through and reflective. They could have been used to emphasise the narcissism of the lovers or, as with the translucent blood-splashed panels in Peter Brook's under-rated Stratford production, to violate any perceived barrier between the self-indulgent private sphere of the lovers and the violent consequences of that love in the world beyond.
But if any barrier is messily and unproductively broken down here, it is that between the worlds of Egypt and severe, black-garbed Rome. Despite a tartly amusing scene on Pompey's galley that threatens to escalate into a drunken homoerotic orgy (Guy Henry's comically prissy Octavius has to shake hands with an Antony whose trousers are, Brian Rix-style, round his ankles), the wider politics of the play are under-explored.
Never elusive enough, Frances de la Tour is transfixed in the final act when she confronts post-Antony existence, looking frighteningly old and vulnerable, her face devoid of make-up and her chestnut mop scraped into a hairnet, like an actress preparing for the transcendency scene in her dressing room.
Exuding low-level meno- pausal glamour and an ironic sense of failure, Alan Bates's Antony certainly suggests an intriguing past, though it's as the faded star of a classical studies department that he'd convince rather than as the moulting lion of the Roman army. Throughout the evening, I kept thinking how much I would like to see this pair play George and Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? In the circumstances, a somewhat backhanded compliment.
Booking: 01789 295623. A version of this review appeared in later editions of Thursday's paper
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food