Antony and Cleopatra – Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-on-Avon

Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Iqbal Khan
Reviewer:  Cath Lyon

From the powerhouse of Shakespeare, comes a powerhouse of a Shakespeare production. Antony and Cleopatra at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford is epic; powerful performances and eerily classic music are set against a simultaneously austere and regal set design that transports the audience seamlessly between chambers of Egypt and the bath houses of Rome.

The length of the play too, is huge, running to nearly three hours, which gives it the breathing space to explore its complexities. The audience is none-too-subtly presented with a range of masculine and feminine forms who individually confront their own relationship with power. With Ben Allen’s petulant and dictatorial Ceasar, we see a force that threatens ruthless colonialism, while Antony Byrne’s staunch and conflicted Antony offers a sympathetic perspective on the role, one which, through the ruthlessness of others as much as his own failings, is slowly losing his grip on power and is driven to an almost psychotic madness.

Josette Simon’s Cleopatra, too, drives the production along by its heart strings. A dangerously majestic portrayal that is as fickle as it is sensual, Simon presents a Cleopatra that refuses to become a subservient and conquered fool.

Power in this production is ruthless and capricious – a dangerous ball that is played and passed on by fortune, which makes the portrayal of the servants, the collateral damage of the play, even more painful.

However, this portrayal doesn’t quite manage to punch past the regalia and give a genuine face to power. Although Iqbal Khan’s subtlety of style brings the complexities of the play to the surface, it fails to provide the knockout statement that his reputation promises. Laura Mvula’s score also promised great things and, although it gives a haunting frame to the play, it does not provide the edge that was expected.

Hampered perhaps by the length of the script and the austere surroundings of the RSC, this portrayal is a bit like Antony himself, conflicted and unable to pack a meaningful punch at the youths who are nipping at its heels. It’s a textbook Shakespeare which, if you’ve paid full price for a ticket or are using the production as a study point, will provide sufficient material. However, if you’re looking for an Antony and Cleopatra that makes a statement about the nature of power today, you may leave feeling disappointed.

Have no doubts that this is another RSC production that ticks all the boxes. Powerful dramatic performances, epic set and stunning music abound. But, sadly, the production lacks any definitive leadership over its themes, leaving a subtle and complex portrayal that fails to pack a punch or leave a ringing in your ears.

Runs until 7 September 2017 | Image: Helen Maybanks

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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  1. Cleopatra fails to rise to the height of grief demanded by Antony’s death.

    On a more practical level she fails at every turn to serve the language of Shakespeare. You don’t have to DO anything to Shakespeare’s text – but have the grace to let it do it to you

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