Shakespeare not stirred. This is the cockeyed cocktail served by Bell Shakespeare’s production of Antony & Cleopatra.
Peter Evans chooses a conversational style that dulls both the poetry and the dramatic power of this middle age crisis cum political intriguer. This custom of Mr. Evans, evident in recent productions for Bell, has definitely staled, robbing the play and the characters their infinite variety.
Johnny Carr and Catherine McClements as Tony and Cleo present the chemistry of a beaker over a burnt out Bunsen, as if they have been unsexed before curtain up.
McClements seems to be striving for an unseemly strain of Strine, making her sound like a bogus Bogan rather than Queen of the Nile and Carr’s Antony is akin to a Bra boy hipster cross. This Antony has well and truly gone to seed, no hint of the celebrated soldier just a sullen, sulking, wet lion’s whelp, slovenly in attire and enunciation.
From the get go, choices seem to be at odds with each other, a scrim around the stage is used to project a history lesson of the story so far. All well and good, except the emphasis on dates conflicts and confuses the costume and set design of pouffes and Ottomans. Why project date so emphatically and then have modern dress and furnishings?
“Triple turned whore” Cleopatra is decked out in flared tux and French cuffs, looking less like an exotic intoxicator and more like Roger Moore running around the Nile in The Spy Who Loved Me. The name’s Patra, Cleopatra. Methinks not. And over the decade span of the story, she doesn’t change costume. No wonder the romance is on the nose.
For clarity of character and diction, Zindzi Okenyo as Charmian and Ray Chong Nee, come to the fore, bringing grace, gravity and the closest thing to greatness in this production. Such is their presence of performance that one ponders wistfully what this production may have been with them in the lead roles. More exotic, more erotic, methinks.
Also worthy of mention in the clarity of voice and character is Janine Watson as Alexas and Steve Rodgers as Agrippa/Demetrius.
Missing the infinite variety, Antony & Cleopatra defies the gravity of the situations both personal and political, so that one commiserates with Cleopatra’s line: “that I may sleep out this great gap of time.”
Bell Shakespeare presents
Antony and Cleopatra
by William Shakespeare
Director Peter Evans
Venue: Sydney Opera House, NSW
Dates: 3 March – 7 April 2018
Canberra Theatre Centre 12 – 21 April 2018
Arts Centre Melbourne 26 April – 13 May 2018