first night

Antony and Cleopatra

Fleur Manning reviews DUCT's latest Shakespearean offering 'Antony and Cleopatra'

 

Shakespeare’s ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ is a play continually negotiating a balance between competing worlds and visions - Rome and Egypt, love and duty, hedonism and order - where politics, passions and rivalries are intertwined.

 

In DUCT’s interpretation, the emphasis was firmly placed on the political tensions of the play, and it effectively evoked the harsh world of conquest and war, with the tactful modernisation of costume adding to the visual clarity of the production. A sense of conflict and threat was well sustained, and the power struggles and scenes of confrontation were well negotiated by a strong ensemble. This emphasis drew particularly on the ‘Roman’ vision of the play, and was perhaps given too much prominence at the expense of the alternate side of the play - the exuberance and allure of the Egyptian setting was not so convincing.

 

This may have resulted from the decision to greatly reduce the play down. Whilst the cuts still retained the main structure and drive of the plot, at times it felt as though we had been left with only a skeleton of the play. For anyone not familiar with ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ this will have helped to achieve what was certainly a very accessible version, but this was perhaps at the expense of much of the play’s power and beauty, which is found it its poetry. The production as a whole was hampered by the episodic structure, accentuated by abridgment, and at times did feel stilted and disjointed. Nevertheless, some transitions were very cleverly managed through the use of the two stage levels and a precise and well-thought out lighting design, and a nod must go to the director and producers for a very imaginative use of the space in the Assembly Rooms - a greater sense of momentum and continuity may have been achieved if this had been exploited further.

 

This said, the cast made excellent sense of the play for such a heavily abridged version. Every actor performed with a great deal of conviction, creating considered and distinct characterisations in multiple roles. But there was an unfortunate tendency to rush the dialogue, especially in the first act, which upset the rhythm of the production and contributed to the slightly disjointed feel. Such stumbles were a shame to see in a cast who were clearly competent but perhaps not entirely confident with their grasp of the text.

 

Sandy Thin as Antony was an example of one trapped somewhat by the rhythms of Shakespeare’s verse, and whilst he was convincing as the entranced lover, enthralled under Cleopatra’s spell, his performance was lacking in the necessary strength and command of Antony as a military leader. He dealt very well, however, with Antony’s ignoble final moments, building convincingly to his last desperate act.

 

Likewise, duality of character was deftly handled by Melanie Clarke as Cleopatra; a demanding and complex role in which she was entirely compelling. Clarke’s speech and physicality were balanced perfectly between agitation and languor, and her interpretation was able to convey a sense of understated control, whilst still delivering on moments of passion and imperious rage. Notable performances were also given by Chris Yeates as Enobarbus, Ellie Bowness as Charmian and Alison Middleton as Agrippa; all making great sense of their lines and delivering them with confidence and variety. Yeates’ delivery of Enobarbus’ speeches were particularly compelling, performed with ease and poignancy.

 

Though the balance of this production was not always consistent, it was ambitiously attempted, and showcased some excellent performances and an enterprising creative team.

 

There is one more night to catch DUCT’s ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’, so treat yourself and inject some Shakespeare into your weekend. For those of you still not sure, this may be your only chance to see an actual, genuine, kid-you-not, live snake on the assembly rooms stage. Impressive.

6 December 2014

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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