Home / Drama / Antony and Cleopatra – Chichester Festival Theatre, Chichester

Antony and Cleopatra – Chichester Festival Theatre, Chichester

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Janet Suzman

Reviewer: Jane Pink

[rating: 4]

“We think that Cleopatra was in and out of every famous bed in the known world, due to Octavius Caesar’s efficient spin-machine … which set out to ruin her reputation and totally succeeded” says director Janet Suzman of Cleopatra and we may well come to her story with inbuilt prejudices, but in this elegant production her reputation is justifiably restored. Antony and Cleopatra’s passionate, wild, reckless relationship is in its last days. That Antony is completely enthralled with the Egyptian queen is evident in both his language and bearing, yet we remain unsure of her true feelings for him. There is a marked difference between her attitude to Antony in his presence and in his absence. Her delight in their passionate nights is evident as is the disdain with which she treats him in the day. She seems most in love with him when he is away, extolling his virtues and agonizing over his new marriage, as she tries to balance the emotional and political elements of her life.

Peter McKintosh’s simply beautiful set facilitates a seamless transition between scenes. Lanterns and gold embellished textiles reveal the sumptuous excesses of the Egyptian palace; metal ladders, gates and walkways lend a military resonance; and clever use of levels suggests the cold, hidden darkness of Cleopatra’s tomblike monument. Lighting, sound and music by Paul Pyant, Sebastian Frost and Corin Buckeridge respectively are used to great effect throughout to create and sustain a sense of drama, and to evoke both ancient Egypt and Rome. Predominantly monochrome costumes, punctuated by coloured signifiers of status, allegiance and military rank help the audience follow the action that, without knowledge of this period in history, may otherwise be complicated. I also enjoyed a nod to the 1920s Art Deco Egyptian Revival in many of the costumes and accessories.

Kim Cattrall captures the sexual power of Cleopatra without resorting to cliché. The Queen was thirty nine when she died, and Cattrall portrays her as an experienced, intelligent woman frustrated by those around her, clear about her own desires and ambitions and willing to go to her death to avoid political compromise. Michael Pennington’s Mark Antony is enthralled with the charismatic and powerful Queen, never more so than in the opening scenes when he dances for and with her, tinkling finger bells as he drifts across the stage in softly draped Egyptian cotton robes. The relationship between the two is captivating. Pennington’s portrayal is earthy and honest and plays against the stereotypical Hollywood image of Mark Antony. Equally Cattrall’s Cleopatra is poles apart from her well-known television persona, and she embraces the Shakespearean dialogue with wit and warmth. There are strong supporting performances from all cast members, with Martin Hutson’s brittle yet merciless Octavius Caesar being an undoubted highlight. Aicha Kossoko as Charmian allows us a glimpse of both Cleopatra’s cruelty and vulnerability and Harmage Singh Kalirai’s mystical soothsayer quietly adds a sense of the magical.

This co-production with Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse closes this year’s Chichester Festival and is an undoubted highlight. Benefitting from having played the rôle of Cleopatra herself, Janet Suzman’s production brings depth to Cleopatra’s story and portrays vividly both the end of a tumultuous relationship and of a political era in Rome brought about by the death of Mark Antony. This is a long play, and a reading of the historical context before watching it is undoubtedly helpful but much of the success and joy of this production is in its ability to take the audience along with the story and to reveal the human side of two of history’s most well known characters.

Photo:Georgia Oetker

Runs until September 29th 2012


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  1. Avatar

    A poor production with no spark between the main players, who were woefully miscast. Cleopatra looked more like an irritable secretary, and Pennington, who was excellent in the Masterbuilder, looked as though he would have been more comfortable chasing butterflies.

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    I share Janet Pink’s views of this production. I found it enthralling, especially the portrayal of the two central characters. Kim Cattrall captured the ambiguities in Cleopatra; a highly intelligent woman who understood how to use her beauty and sexuality to capture men like Julius Caesar and Mark Antony for political gain, but who also could not control her jealousy and anger. Michael Pennington gave a very subtle interpretation of Antony, showing him as the link between the langorous gaudiness of Egypt and the cold ruthlessness of Rome.

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    Fraser McMaster

    Well I must have seen a different production to you! The one I saw was tedious in the extreme with two quite unbelievable lead performances. Hutson was the only one who merited any praise at all…

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    An excellent review, but unfortunately I really don’t think we saw the same play. The relationship between the two certainly wasn’t cativating – unfortunately Michael Pennington is unbelievable as a character 16 years older than a 39 year old. The actor who is understudying the role is a far more convincing 55. The idea of either of them being passionately in love with each other seems deeply unlikely, as does the idea that this old boy can still go into battle for longer than 5 minutes without having to have a lie down.
    There were some other smaller issues which seemed magnified in the light of the fact that it was already hard to believe in the play. The desire to shin up and downn ladders throughout the production (clanging gates shut as they went) seemed a little bizarre as did Cleopatra rising from the stage in full ‘classical’ dress (gold cloak, head dress et al) to be replaced later by balaclavas and helicopter sound effects; all sound of course being played at an excessive volume no doubt for artistic reasons, but also serving the purpose of waking slumbering audience members.
    TheI’m sure it was an excellent production 2 years ago in Liverpool, otherwise there’s no way it would have been bought in for the CFT season; but this time round it all seemed rather confused and enough to put people off this particular Shakespeare for life.

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    I’m not an expert on Anthony and Cleopatra, but surely the play only works if there is a clear and compelling chemistry between the two main characters. None at all between Kim Cattrell and Micheal Pennington (a better Lear than Anthony, I would think).

    For us, this was a long evening, with the performance of Matin Hutson as Octavius Ceaser a bright spot in an otherwise rather gloomy landscape. I don’t think we were alone in feeling this, the applause at the end was polite rather than enthusiastic.

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    I note other major reviews tend to the “2star” view, which I share. I felt all the cast were shouting the lines to the back row, and thus lacked subtlety. No chemistry (as most folk agree). More like a “school play” stylised production in my opinion.

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    I would give it a 2* at best. Mark Antony was badly miscast and I agree with A Fox, the cast bellowed out their words…the whole effect was tedious.
    I left at the break.

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    This was a long and uninspiring production. There was no spark of true love or chemistry between Kim Cattrall and Michael Pennington as Cleopatra and Mark Anthony. The verse was proclaimed instead of conveying the full range of subtle emotions between the lovers. Indeed, Anthony appeared to be so worn and tottery that it was even difficult to believe in his former glory as a great leader of men in battle. When his attempt to kill himself failed, the audience tittered, which was certainly not the reaction which would have been desired at such a, supposedly, tragic moment. The set did not really aid the actors with interminable entrances and exits on the stage and countless climbings and clangings up and down steel ladders with clashing of closing gates. Was this in the interests of ‘health and safety’? After three and a half hours, one was left with the distinct impression that the audience was mightily relieved to be released from their own agony and allowed to go home.

  9. Avatar

    Very disappointing production. Tedious, no spark between the two leading characters. Very odd choice of costumes, which was distracting. Left at the interval, something which I have never done before! Let alone at the Chichester Festival Theatre.