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Reasons to watch Antony and Cleopatra

Reasons to watch Antony and Cleopatra

Reasons to watch Antony and Cleopatra cover photo on Stagedoor
It’s got real star power, with a grizzled Ralph Fiennes as Antony and a luminous Sophie Okonedo as Cleopatra.

They are both fab and they genuinely spark off of each other. Unlike The National’s previous attempt at the play with a doomed pairing Alan Rickman and Helen Mirren. One critic described them as rising to “exotic ardour with little more enthusiasm than a pair of glumly non-mating pandas at London Zoo, coaxed to do their duty to perpetuate the species.”

Fiennes and Okonedo may not have combustible sexual chemistry but you do believe they are enthralled with each other, and are only fully alive when in each other’s presence. They add lustre to each other. They revel in the illusion of each other to the point of being deluded. That adds an interesting layer.

Fiennes can sound a little declamatory, but to be honest that is just about old school style and lots of people love that much more than me. In many ways it is sublime verse speaking. And my, has Ant and Cleo got some exquisite poetry. You’ll recognise a lot of it. He suggests a man struggling to prove that he’s up to the job in every way and not past his prime.

Photos by Johan Persson.

If I had to hand just one of them the acting honours they would go to Okonedo. Others thought the same. She won an Evening Standard and Critics Circle award for her performance. She is utterly captivating. A bit of a handful. Capricious, self-mocking and very funny. Vain and witty too.

The frocks are just fab. Better than the Oscars’ red carpet. So is Hildegarde Bechtler’s revolving set design that solves the problem of the plays numerous scenes and changes of location. Egypt looks like a very louche boutique hotel and Rome is all sharp corners, white marble walls and radar screens. Last week in Frankenstein it was a train; this week the NT produces a submarine from out of its box of tricks.

The supporting cast includes a real snake. A milk snake, not an asp. Or rather four milk snakes alternating the role. The Telegraph reported that “They have their own climate-controlled backstage green room, a personalised diet plan of defrosted mice, and – in a scenario no doubt familiar to highly-strung thespians – must be kept apart lest they try to kill each other.”

It’s modern dress so has plenty of shades of contemporary middle east conflict and a political thriller. But there is also some interesting stuff around celebrity and how far this Antony and Cleo believe their own—and each other’s—publicity. They self-mythologise in a big way: “Eternity was in our lips and eyes.” They die not for love but for fear of humiliation and public shame. Very Jon Ronson.

Fisayo Akinade has a great turn as the hapless Eros, proving that things never turn out well for the messenger bearing bad news.

It’s long—3.5 hours in the theatre but still likely to be over three hours on line—but ultimately rewarding. But make sure you are well stocked up on snacks and drinks.

You can watch Antony & Cleopatra tomorow evening (7 May) at 7pm and it will be available until Thu 14 May.

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Written by

Lyn Gardner

New tips and reviews every week. If you're looking for innovative theatre, you've come to the right place.
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