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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Shakespeare's Globe


  Clive Wood and Eve Best/ Ph: Manuel Harlan

Eve Best’s return to the Globe as the Queen of the Nile is alone a sufficiently alluring attraction to the wooden O’s latest production. Ultimately Antony and Cleopatra stands or falls on its Cleopatra, arguably the most demanding role for a woman in the canon. Best knows the space intimately, having given us a delightful Beatrice in Much Ado a few summers ago and last season making her directorial debut there with Macbeth. She is constantly on the prowl, radiating energy, from one corner of the stage to the other or bending to bestow a kiss on an enchanted spectator. There is perhaps none better than this inventive, witty actress to display mercurial, contradictory and manipulative Cleopatra’s “infinite variety” – vain, cruel, deceitful, cowardly, yes, yet fascinating, ecstatically sensuous and majestically commanding.
But Jonathan Munby’s mightily well-done production is a hugely enjoyable whole, a disarmingly rollicking Antony and Cleopatra, taken at a gallop and full of playful roistering. Passionate intimacies of the protagonists and plotting of power players flow in and out of vignettes with a cinematic spectacle. And the high spirits in the first half give measured way affectingly to closing darkness and self-destructive, piteous tragedy in the second. It is customary at the Globe to end productions with an ensemble jig. This time, instead, the company sets the tone with an infectious introductory orgy of belly dancing hip swiveling that establishes that noble Antony, controlling Egypt for Rome, has gone native and abandoned himself to hedonism, “the triple pillar of the world transformed into a strumpet’s fool” indeed. 
The text, with its countless references to spheres, orbs and world power, specifically contrasts the lovers’ passion play with the political panorama. Wonderful visual flourishes emphasise this. Indignant Romans at home lament the latest shocking developments as a resplendent Antony and Cleopatra lead a jubilant, singing procession in Alexandria, out from behind the Romans, around them and through the audience. Flag bearers twirl above the stage; a map of the Roman world unfurled as a backdrop to the stylised battle dance heralds ruin. Culture clash is neatly shorthanded with a distinctive look of two worlds in fatal collision. The Egyptians in their wispy white linen, the Romans collectively as sturdily sombre as a Rembrandt group portrait in black velvet Jacobean dress. It’s a style rivalry to repulse Jolyon Coy’s prissy, petulant pipsqueak Octavius Caesar. Egyptian glamour extends to Cleopatra borne in on a platform hauled by hunks and fanned by carpets on pulleys operated by attendants. We certainly see her in our minds as Phil Daniels’ bluntly likeable Enobarbus gives his immortal report of Cleopatra on her barge. The menfolk, too, have their moments, conspiratorial confabs, touching heroics and comradely soldiers’ revels being where Antony is most at home.
Clive Wood was not the most obvious choice for an Antony, but if he is short on nobility and poetry he’s an impressively virile and rugged, once proud old lion brought down by love, shame and excess. The couple plays less and less to the crowd and becomes more quietly, nobly reflective when all is lost. As Antony dies in Cleopatra’s arms and she freezes into her death pose on a throne that transforms her into the Winged Isis image, a rare, rapt, suitably awed silence envelops the Globe.


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