Theatre: Antony and Cleopatra  

Image: Manuel Harlan

‘Three hours?!’ gulped our two Shakespeare’s Globe novices. ‘Yes, we will have cushions please!’
Later, at five o’clock on this damp May day, as the long, appreciative applause eventually died, the pair were talking about Cleopatra (Eve Best) – how lovely she was – and what she was doing with ‘an old man’ like Mark Antony (Clive Wood). ‘He’s an old soldier,’ we tried to explain; our words fell on deaf ears.
With so many comedic moments, was it a tragedy? ‘Yes, it was,’ they agreed based on their Shakespearean knowledge. A good experience? ‘Yes,’ they said, ‘even though we had no idea what was going on sometimes.’ Fair enough: but discuss this brilliant production we did.
Director Jonathan Munby did a great job at telling this sweeping story of war and peace, love and war, male versus female and Rome versus Egypt. Wardrobe was important; and thankfully there was minimal doubling up that can often confuse. How lovely for Cleopatra and her attendants to wear so many beautiful gowns – these scenes were ultra-feminine, elegantly played, contrasting with the traditional soldiers’ uniforms of the male characters – who were properly male – playing drinking games and recreating a kind of Maori-style haka.
Best is a beautifully controlled actress; exposing the great queen’s insecurities, with humour and inner strength. She was ably supported by Rosie Hilal (Iras) and Sirine Saba (Charmian), whose wonderfully expressive face left us in doubt of where the mood was at any given time.
It was surprising to hear that the previous Sunday’s performance had been unusually cancelled because of Clive Wood’s indisposition but it was clear why the show could not, go on without an actor. The chemistry between the two leading performers was such that one could really not do without the other; on stage as in the drama. [In fact, on this performance, James Hayes (Lepidus/Snake Man) was indisposed so his roles were taken by Christopher Saul who was reading in.]
It was the impromptu moments that made this production sing and most of them involved Best: she accidentally knocked a man’s spectacles, returning to set them right; she took a gulp of beer from another groundling; and charmingly kissed Saul’s Snake Man urging him: ‘yes, this time, farewell’ as he was unsure of his cue to leave. The Bankside pigeons played their part too; flying straight ahead as if part of the procession when Cleopatra’s winged throne came on stage.
All in all, a wonderful production. Long live Queen Eve!