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National Theatre Live’s ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA
Last Edit: lordofspeech 03:10 pm EST 12/07/18
Posted by: lordofspeech 03:06 pm EST 12/07/18

I did see it. Last night, at the Beekman. Maybe 20 percent of the theatre was filled (but perhaps the 42nd street theatres had sold out; I initially tried for them and couldn’t access those tickets online).

Ralph Fiennes made some bold comic choices. His Antony was sometimes a lout, often a sloppy, inappropriate drunk, with a braggadoccio that was very Benedick (from Much Ado). And all those character choices are oh so right since his pride and prowess are in his being a soldier. He also wasnot only besotted by Cleopatra but had given over much of his personal power to her. Also very right. He’s not an actor to glide by on personal charisma; he digs in for those specific choices. And he allowed himself to look over-the-hill: also very right.
Sophie O’s Cleopatra was, for me, not as successful, except that she embodied a tempest of emotion, artifice, and a spoilt, childlike insecurity. Until the last act, where she did rise to some grandeur. She hasa thrilling voice, and I think she was choosing to emphasise the irresponsibility and impetuosity. But, because she was so scattershot in her effects, I didn’t really see what was making her tick. True love? The desperation of aging? A cutthroat desire for world domination? Sure, they’re all there...but the actress needs to choose. (Janet Suzman’s videotaped interpretation remains for me the best..at once deeply majestic and outrageously passionate.). Her shimmery haute-couture-like fashions did not really match her interpretation. (But the haute couture look was a definite choice, according to the costume designer’s taped interview which showed during the “play’s intermission.”)I just wanted her to be deeper. Not more emotional, just deeper. (I did note and not fully approve of how often she was prone to drink, but that’s in the text, for sure.)

It was a big space, I guess. The actors were vocally projecting a lot. It had to be very loud, and it was great to see the athleticism of Fiennes’ vocal work.
The Octavia was ideal and well played. (But the director chose to double her as one of the soldiers who invades Cleopatra’s tomb at the end, which is ridiculous and makes a very precious, director-y point. Plain wrong.

Octavius was not just callow-seeming but callow; which is a simplistic way to go. There are depths and corridors to this young man that went unexplored. Enobarbus was good, absolutely fine. He had the air of both soldier and clown and a very grave manner as he moved toward his tragedy. However, having seen the depth of John Douglas Thompson’s characterization at Theatre for New Audience, I knew there could have been much more grandeur to his way of being, and I just wasn’t touched at his character’s arc.

In general, there was a lack of depth. Of the play being touching. It’s not just about the romance between them, it’s about the passing of a glorious, reckless way of being which they (and especially he) represent. If we don’t feel sad (SPOILER ALERT) when the machiavel, cold Roman Empire wins, then we haven’t been made present to what’s at stake.


The storytelling was clear and crisp. The Egypt and Rome sets were modern-pseudo-equinox-stylish (though perhaps much too alike; Egypt should have much more vitality to it). The Scarus was great. He played fully what the tragedy of the fall of Antony should be, and it was felt in his resignation when he went over to Octavius.
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