Mark Antony (Antony Byrne) is one of the triumvirate of Rome, but he has spent most of his time recently in Egypt, where he has begun a torrid affair with Cleopatra (Josette Simon). But now Rome – in the form of Octavius Caesar (Ben Allen) – is calling for him to return, so that he can take up the fight against pirates. Against Cleopatra’s wishes and his own, Antony follows that order. But the demands of Rome are not easily fulfilled.
I’ve seen quite a few RSC productions by now (thanks to broadcasts) and there were few I actually liked. Antony and Cleopatra was the point where I decided to leave the broadcasts be for now, because I really could not stand this production.
There was a short behind the scenes argument where Khan and Simon spoke about the characterization of Cleopatra and how she is such a fascinating female character and they wanted to show her complexity. Drawing on the famous speech from the play wherein Antony says Cleopatra has “infinite variety”, they decided that would have to mean that Cleopatra is never the same person for more than 30 seconds in a row. So Simon – proving to be a versatile actress indeed – switches personalities more than costumes, and with each switch, I got more and more aggravated.
Because the result is a character that is not a complex, powerful woman who was a successful ruler but a woman who follows her every whim and mood without holding back the slightest bit, while having no clue who she is. Unpredictable is not the same as unmotivated or fickle, but the play fails to draw that distinction (and I seriously doubt that this interpretation of infinite variety is the best interpretation).
Antony, in comparison, is stiff and brittle, making it hard to believe that those two would fall in love at all, nevermind have such a passionate affair. I just got no sense what drew them to each other. No, that’s not correct, Antony’s attraction to Cleopatra does become clear, but why she would react this way to him? I have no clue.
The thing I probably enjoyed most about this production is the music Laura Mvula wrote for it. But other than that the play and this production really didn’t manage to win me over.