Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Gavin McAlinden
After months of closure, it is time for theatres to get a little inventive and while musicals across the country are adapting to the new rules, drama has some catching up to do. With monologues aplenty on offer at the few venues attempting to stage work again, it is interesting to see Theatro Technis in Camden deciding to stage a full production of Antony and Cleopatra to follow their version of The Wild Duck last week.
In love with life and enjoying the beauties of Egypt, Mark Antony luxuriates at Cleopatra’s palace, a place of revelry, dancing and seduction. But when Rome demands his return, the General finds it difficult to readjust to the formalities of his native land. Falling out with fellow triumvir Octavius Caesar, Mark Antony returns to his Queen bringing war and destruction in his wake.
Full credit to Gavin McAlinden and the Theatro Technis team for the scale and ambition of this production, containing a cast of 20 who are either real-life couples or have formed actor and household bubbles for the duration of rehearsal and performance. It is no easy thing to rehearse a play as grand, sweeping and mobile as Antony and Cleopatra via Zoom and there is a real feeling of cohesion among the cast as they dance together in the choreographed opening sequence.
While this is usually a play about doomed love and the fading grandeur of middle age, McAlinden’s production focuses on the military, a series of battles in which the male protagonist fights alongside and then against his former allies. Governed by pride, this revival makes clear that while men talk of conquest, honour and land, the desire for victory over a personal opponent drives their decision-making.
Somewhere in all of this the enduring passion between Antony and Cleopatra gets rather lost, not helped by the reduction of her role to that of a nagging wife for much of the play. Hanna Luna is a capricious and paranoid Egyptian monarch, fearful of being abandoned by her lover, but Luna too often shouts her lines, spending all of Cleopatra’s energy so early in the play that Antony’s desire for her is hard to fathom. She performs the death scene with dignity but Cleopatra’s role is so reduced by this point that the lengthy addendum that follows defeat in the war with Octavius feels unmerited.
Michael Claff is a far stronger Antony, a man conflicted from the start by his desire for Egypt and his dedication to Rome. Claff speaks the verse with clarity, particularly in the speeches, building Antony’s arrogance as well as a valuable friendship with Gabriel Puscas’ Enobarbus that only deepens as the play unfolds. With far greater focus on this relationship, McAlinden may think to rename his production Antony and Enobarbus.
While key events are signposted well and James Jones’ music is particularly good at transporting the audience between countries and into war, identifying who is who in the vast supporting cast is far harder. Joe Harrell is a quietly menacing Octavius, the measured tones only once exploding into a rage while Freddie Hogan in the small role of Proculeius and Anton Stennet as a determined Pompey stand out.
Advertised at 140 minutes, this version of Antony and Cleopatra was a notably three hours in performance, and while the first 70-minutes felt rather brisk, the remaining 105-minutes after the interval didn’t coalesce sufficiently to sustain such a lengthy investment for an audience. But this production has overcome a number of hurdles just to be here and being able to perform it at all is an achievement in itself.
Runs until 4 October 2020