Monday, February 12, 2007

Antony and Cleopatra

While we were in London recently, we went to the RSC's production of this, which starred Patrick Stewart and Harriet Walter, two marvellous actors. As usual, it is funny to see how much of the chat in the play deals with Cleopatra's advanced years and how much she is knocking on, when Walter is in fact ten years younger than Stewart. But never mind. The play itself is quite strange. There are not many familiar lines in it, apart from the bit about age not withering her nor custom staling her infinite variety, and I'm not really sure what it's trying to say about anything, other than it's nice when your bloke loves you enough to top himself when he thinks you're dead, and it's a pity women are a bit mental (familiar Shakespeare themes, some might say). It does have the feel of a late play to it, and I believe (which means I've just looked it up) that Shakespeare wrote it just after Macbeth, which is interesting, because I was just remarking to Mister Monkey how, for all that Cleopatra comes over as a bit flighty in it, she is nevertheless supportive and does not interfere in his work at all, making her the exact opposite of Lady Macbeth, who was somewhat ambitious. Everyone in the play seems kind of tired of fighting, and the battle scenes don't have the same vim and vigour as they do in other plays. Perhaps Shakespeare was tired.

That said, it's a fun play, with plenty of "my lord, some important action has just taken place offstage!" moments, and it seems much easier to follow than other Shakespeare plays, but that could be because I actually know who most of the characters are already, and don't need the members of different factions colour-coded in order to help me out, though they were anyway. Thanks, RSC, for admitting that Shakespeare can be a bitch to follow sometimes.

Even apart from the colour-coding, this production had several of the strengths and weaknesses I have noted in RSC productions (I R CULTUR) over the years: amazing leading performances that actually manage to make Shakespearean dialogue seem almost conversational and naturalistic, combined with some slightly ropey and earnest supporting characters (including one particularly bad messenger, who got a great write-up on the billboard outside, for reasons that escape me) and a basic set. It's all about the stars. Of course, for Antony and Cleopatra, that was the case anyhow.

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