Antony And Cleopatra1998
This page is dedicated to Claire, with my thanks
Mark Antony, a great soldier, and together with Octavius Caesar and Lepidus, one of the three rules of Rome, is in Egypt, in love with its glamorous Queen, Cleopatra. The death of his wife Fulvia and other events force him to return to Rome, where he promises to attend to his duties. He marries Caesar's sister Octavia to cement his friendship with Caesar, but cannot resist returning to Cleopatra. This leads to war.
Antony and Cleopatra
This is the third Shakespeare play I watched (after Macbeth and Much Ado About Nothing, both on TV) and I enjoyed it immensely. This is Shakespeareís longest play and the one with the most scenes and scenic changes. You have to "jump" from Alexandria to Rome and back, just for a few sentences. Itís a challenge to do that on stage and not to confuse the audience. The revolving stage did this well and originally. The sound effects added to that, Egypt had music (sounding like harps or flutes) whereas Rome is announced with drums. All actors gave fine performances and the love story between Ms Mirrenís Cleopatra and Mr. Rickmanís Antony was believable although there were no steamy sex scenes as some expected and/or wanted. Lots of humor in the first part of the play, when Antony and Caesar met for the first time: Antony trying to justify his stay in Egypt and to please Caesar. ( "Neglected, rather....." Act II, Scene II) Also wonderful: the "drunk scene" on a boat with Antony singing and dancing.
The second part of the play deals with his failures: the scenes in which he is desperate after loosing a battle were very moving. If you have ever lost a "battle" you will find your feelings mirrored there. Ms Mirrenís Cleopatra was perfect in showing "deep" emotions changing in seconds. Especially to be mentioned are also Enobarbus, a soldier friend of Antony, played by Finbar Lynch and Octavius Caesar, played by Samuel West. He is Antonyís opponent and does that very well. ("He calls me boy...." Act IV, Scene I : he really sounded like a little boy who wants to be taken seriously and isnít.)
If you expected a modern dress production with deeply new insights into Shakespeare or the story you would have been disappointed. If you expected to have a nice evening with a cast that really enjoyed playing you would have had a wonderful time.
The Two Antonys
Reviewed by Claire, September 1999
Those of you who remember back to last Autumn, may recall that Alan Rickman took over the role of *Antony* in Shakespeare's Antony & Cleopatra at the Royal National Theatre in London, from Alan Bates who withdrew for knee surgery. Bates is currently taking the same role for the Royal Shakespeare Company's current production in Stratford, so I was interested in gaining a comparative for the admittedly flawed National production.
Just to recap, the production starring Alan Rickman was hammered unmercifully by almost all critics for its inaudibility and lack of passion between the leads.
Well, lucky they didn't see Mr. Bates' pathetic effort. His performance lacked almost everything, wooden, staid without passion almost without virtual movement. Sure he had learnt the words but where was the phrasing that brings out the comedy in this tale, where was the change in vocal timbre that would draw the audience into his passion?
If one can tell a man by his clothes then the opening seduction scene in Egypt told the difference between the Antonys. Bates seemed to be carrying too much weight, a full beard as opposed to the programme cover made him look even older and the robe he wore was *Merlin* without the pointed hat. Contrast Rickman, same opening scenes looked very sexy in cream gold threaded loose light weight pyjama-type suit with long (tied at the waist) top that was mainly open. He looked in shape and moved so easily eating up the huge stage. As Bates' voice droned on I looked for some . . . well, physical signals . . . the hands moved between across the belly, dived occasionally to the crotch and waved aimlessly in the air, and that was about it. Oh and he almost dropped the trousers in the pirate ship scene.
Cleopatra (Frances de la Tour) thrust gamely on . . . but it was too one sided, and I have to say I enjoyed Mirren's coquetry and valued her timing the greater for seeing another not quite make it. Of the other main parts, Storey as Enobarbus stood head and shoulders above the rest.
So, I sat there almost willing Bates to imbue the part with some of the physical dash that Rickman brought to the part, hearing the Rickman voice ebb and flow over the same words. Stunned that the audience found no amusement whatsoever in the whole second half, which was hardly surprising as Bates failed to make any of the gambits. One doesn't appreciate exactly how comic Rickman can be until see someone do the same thing without the same sense of timing. And it was all timing and emphasis on phrases that made the difference between comic or not. I wished all those who lamented Bates withdrawal from the National could have seen this performance. The man just did not have *it* in any shape or form, and would hardly have made it vocally beyond row H at the National.
"This is a soldiers kiss..."Where was the passion?
"Oh whither has thou led me Egypt..."Where was the pain?
"Triple-turn'd whore.."Where was the anger?
"I'm dying Egypt..."Where was the pity?
I love these parts, and been carried away when they are done properly. If the actor cannot get these emotions across I feel the audience has been cheated. With Alan Bates they were cheated.
No I didn't miss the National clanking scenery and perspex *Rome* but the National tomb scene was quite spectacularly beautiful with the candles. However, I realise that sort of thing was probably beyond the RSC budget for this Stratford production.
Overall, the minor characters at the National were weak, got away with over-acting and were not disciplined enough. If one could replace those with the RSC variety one would have a pretty good overall cast. I'm afraid this has served merely to show how good National Theatre's A&C was by the time it had matured, this perspective being totally lost on most people who failed to see beyond the structural flaws of the production. If subsequent Antony's are now *spoiled* for me, I consider seeing the Rickman one the price worth paying.
(photos of Alan Bates and Frances de la Tour, and of Alan Rickman and Helen Mirren, from the programmes of the RSC and NT respectively)