Antony and Cleopatra, Chichester Festival Theatre, CFT, September 2012Posted on 15 September 2012
At the start of this production Cleopatra stands in a long golden gown with her back to the audience, and before committing suicide towards the end she appears in the identical position. Thus was framed Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, brilliantly served by Peter McKintosh’s fine designs and beautiful lighting by Paul Pyant. The split-level, with ladders leading from upper to lower, assisted rapid changes of scene as we move between Egypt and Rome, and sound effects by Sebastian Frost were excellent.
The comparatively long hair for Antony and his chief aide Enobarbus gave them a slightly alien air compared to other Romans, like colonial officers gone native, and Michael Pennington made full use of his wonderful voice in the role of Antony. As Octavius Caesar, Martin Hutson gave a wonderfully convincing performance showing a leader taking pains to be reasonable while keeping clear of messy entanglements, and his careful cleaning of the edge of a barrel before sitting on it in the drunken scene was a nice touch. In the small role of his sister Octavia, Ruth Everett was outstanding, and as the understudy for Cleopatra it would have been very interesting to see her perform that role. As it was we had American actress Kim Cattrall who came good in the end though her mercurial and manipulative histrionics at the start were unattractive, and there was little chemistry between her and Antony.
It’s difficult to know whether this was partly due to a lack of focus by director Janet Suzman, and whether better direction might have helped Ian Hogg in the important role of Antony’s right hand man Enobarbus. His speeches lacked clarity and conviction, and the important turning point when he decides to switch sides came and went with little impact. Martin Herdman as Lepidus, the third member of the triumvirs, was excellent in the drunk scene, and there were some fine performances in smaller roles, with Jack Bannell very strong as the Roman officer Proculeius, and Offue Okegbe giving a sympathetic portrayal of the eunuch Mardian at Cleopatra’s court.
In the end my main impression was of Michael Pennington’s Antony as a tragic figure, and Martin Hutson as the sure-footed young Octavius (he was 32 when Antony died) who will later become Caesar Augustus, while Cleopatra seemed more of a catalyst for these historical figures rather than a fascinating and intelligent woman in her own right.
Performances continue until September 29 — for details click here.