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Review: ANTHONY AND CLEOPATRA at Shoreside Theatre, Pumphouse Theatre

Review: ANTHONY AND CLEOPATRA at Shoreside Theatre, Pumphouse Theatre

Passion and Politics - and Perception

It's a balmy summer night at the Shoreside's Summer Shakespeare in the Park - and indeed it feels like we could be in exotic Egypt or rampaging political Rome. The wind is blowing in the back curtain creating glimmering curves.

Expertly directed by Jason Moffatt, who has an eye for artistic detail, this tragic and romantic play is brought to life with creative flair and visual interest. This is a play which is driven by two conflicting forces: passion (love) and politics (duty) . Sharp contrasts are drawn between the worlds of Rome and Egypt; and the way they are perceived. Caesar perceives Alexandria as a den of iniquity where the noontime streets are filled with "knaves that smell of sweat." Similarly Cleopatra perceives a Roman street: "[m]echanic slaves / With greasy aprons, rules, and hammers shall / Uplift us to the view". These contrasts and conflicts are commandingly conveyed through the director's detailed vision, the alternating scenes juxtaposed in the plot and with superbly executed characterisation. The power of the rhythm of the blank verse is respected and spoken with a natural ease. The well-projected dialogise is clear, emotionally charged and directed well to the audience. The scenes move with a compelling change of pace.

Initially we are drawn into the playful (and lusty) passion of Mark Anthony (Grae Burton) and Cleopatra.(Samantha Ellwood) These are powerful people - but one is a married man and the other appears somewhat petulant, temperamental and a tease. "Egypt, thou knew'st too well My heart was to thy rudder tied by th'strings And thou shouldst tow me after." Although a queen, Cleopatra cannot have her Anthony. That is - until his wife Fulvia dies and he is now free to marry her. But ... he doesn't. Instead , he "chooses" to form a political alliance by marrying beautiful Octavia (Caesar's sister) demurely played by Asha

O'Connor, (who more than capably plays several roles).

In Rome, suitably imperious and reasoned Octavius Caesar (Rama Buisson) meets with Lepidus (John Blackman) to discuss the threat that Pompey poses to the empire. He condemns Antony for staying in Egypt, where he is putting love above his duty to the state.

"As we rate boys who, being mature Pawn their experience to the present pleasure, And so rebel to judgment."Agrippa is brought convincingly to life, remaining truthful throughout every resonant line and military pose. Kutumi Lefferts makes the most of this role. Shakespeare liked to have contrasts and parallels in his characters. He is Mark Anthony's opposite it seems.

Caesar dismisses Antony's passion for Cleopatra as immature irresponsibility, and emphasises the Roman expectation of duty over pleasure, reason over emotion. This conflict in world views will underlie the narrative and the clashes between Caesar and Antony, Antony and Cleopatra, and Cleopatra and Caesar.

The political romance that sits at the heart of the play is convincingly captured and presented by the titular characters. "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety." Samantha Ellwood is a captivating Cleopatra - a complex woman with a galvanising gamut of layers: a wilful, hormonal temptress, a poised and commanding ruler, a brooding strategist, a woman scorned, a lover in despair, a determined woman willing to take her life rather than live without her man. Her Mark Anthony (Grae Burton) is equally impressive. At times, he is just a man in lust, or a man in love. At others, he is a military leader, successful then shamed, a man forced into decisions he doesn't want to make, a man filled with passionate anger, and loud angry outbursts. These two performers are entirely credible and compelling in what are very challenging roles.

As is true of any Shakespeare play, the messengers and servants, and the minor characters all play a significant role. It's important they stay truthful and focused, their reactions to the play's action strengthen the powerful moments. These they do - confidently juggling several contrasting roles - as did Shakespeare's company. Ofttimes we hardly recognise them as the same actor. There are some very quick costume changes! Excellent work from Sophia Kirkwood-Smith (Iras/Pompey) , Faith Ward ((Alexas/Menas), John Blackman(Lepidus), Ann An (Charmian).

An audience (as Shakespeare knew) appreciate the touches of humour that slip through even the most dark of fabrics in a narrative. The contemporary take presented as boys talk was well presented by Enobarbus (Toby Furmanski) in his famous speech about Cleopatra: "The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne, Burnt on the water." The "party scene" is lively and realistic with its drinking games, its singalong with the guitar, the carousing, the dancing - and the drunken staggering. The clown (Rex Steele) who brings the asp to Cleopatra completely stole the show in his brief scene.

Congratulations to the creative team adeptly led by the director. The outdoor multi-levelled, setting/stage design (Jason Moffatt), is creatively employed with a multitude of areas being created - the upper stages of Shakespeare's Globe now upper side stages. The lighting (Hana Ram and Nathan Turley) is a powerful player in the drama of this play, with colour and space being combined with verve. Exits and entrances, and use of the audience space and staging levels are expertly managed. Emotionally driven "coloured" moments of pathos, romance, anger are contrasted against the cold world of politics and alliances captured with stark white light. Costume design (Karen Mack and Ali Roigard) create classical shapes, a clear contrast between Egypt and Rome, allegiances, personality and status with colour and elegance. Makeup certainly enhanced the characterisation. Well done here to Aleisha Merwyn.

The exquisitely staged, superbly enacted, and thoroughly engaging production stays true to the genius of Shakespeare's words and his profound understanding of the complex nature of humanity. Don't miss it. It definitely deserves a full house every night.

The 27th Summer 2023 Shakespeare in the Park (ANTHONY AND CLEOPATRA and THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR ) runs January 21 - February 18. Tickets on or (09) 489 8360. Children under 15 FREE.

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From This Author - Glenda Pearce

Glenda Pearce is a  professional speaker on # dynamic speaking #bodyworks #body communication # effective communication . She is also a specialist professional effective speaking coac... (read more about this author)

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