Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn
milwaukeesfs

Royal Shakespeare Company: “Anthony and Cleopatra”

On Tuesday evening, July 18th, we went to the Downer Theater to see the hi-def broadcast of Shakespeare’s “Anthony and Cleopatra,” as performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, of Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Actually, we saw half the presentation, since it was a work night for me and we both got tired, and bailed out at the intermission. (The first act plus “prologue” is two hours by itself--).  What we did see was very good and worthy of comment, though.

The title roles were played by Josette Simon as Cleopatra, and Antony Byrne as Marc Antony, both of whom were excellent. The RSC tends to cast this show with actors a bit more mature than usually pictured for the roles, which works well. Ms. Simon, like the historical Cleopatra, is striking rather than beautiful, and can be both commanding and beguiling. Her Cleopatra is mercurial both by nature and by design.  Byrne’s Antony is a bluff soldier, weary of the years of warfare since the death of his mentor, Julius Caesar.

The play makes it clear why Antony finds Egypt so seductive. Cleopatra’s court is beautiful, sensual, playful: everything Rome is not. Rome represents duty and politics. The one celebration there we see, for the temporary treaty with Pompey the Younger, turns into a crude all-male drinking bout.  

Very fine performances also by Ben Allen as the triumvir Octavius Caesar, who is more of a rival to Anthony than a villain, and by Lucy Phelps as his sister, Octavia, whom Octavian marries to Antony in an effort to cement an alliance.  Octavia is loyal to Anthony, until Octavius reveals his double-dealing with enemies of Rome, Cleopatra’s allies.

It was a really fine production as far as we saw and I’d be glad to see the whole thing if it were reshown at a more convenient time, or on DVD.

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Tags: shakespeare
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