BWW REVIEW: Clean Contemporary Staging Of ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA Brings The Wars And Romance Of The Ancient Worlds To Sydney To Open Bell Shakespeare's 2018 Season.

BWW REVIEW: Clean Contemporary Staging Of ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA Brings The Wars And Romance Of The Ancient Worlds To Sydney To Open Bell Shakespeare's 2018 Season.

Thursday 8th March 2018, 7:30pm, Playhouse Sydney Opera House

Bell Shakespeare's staging of ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA presents one of history's most famous couples and the transition from the power of Ancient Egypt to the rise of the Roman Empire. Director Peter Evans blends a contemporary aesthetic with the Bard's old world English to present a more accessible interpretation of the fatal struggle for love and leadership.

Designer Anna Cordingley keeps the work contained in a luxuriously minimalist oval lounge room filled with wide retro chairs and ottomans presented across two levels. White sheer curtains surround the space, at times capturing the action as it envelops the stage completely to peer in on the action whilst also providing a screen to reinforce the passage of time, changes of location, and summarising the intervening events. The plush pastel seating and the rear illuminated walls that shine through the curtains provide the main splash of colour through the work. Cordingley keeps the 'living' characters in a monochrome palette of modern fashions that convey power and class whilst the other worldly characters of the Soothsayer and the Clown have a subtle colour. Benjamin Cisterne's lighting is presented in washes that light that work with the illuminated walls that at times reflect of through the rear sheers with A harshness but generally convey the changing moods as the story moves from Rome and Alexandria. Max Lyandvert presents a generally subtle soundtrack beneath the work but there are moments of bolder musical interludes where celebrations and turmoil are expressed through dance and fabulous physicality. Lyandvert also utilises Zindzi Okenyo's musical talents to present ethereal vocals that float out, unamplified, over the scenes that are unfolding.

Catherine McClements captures the Egyptian queen's passion and insecurity with a brilliant subtlety and gravitas whilst still conveying the absurd and outdated notion where women were seen as weaker and more preoccupied with love and looks despite Queen Elizabeth I having ruled England at the time Shakespeare was writing. Johnny Carr delivers a strong Antony but despite the expression of flirtation, the depth of sincere love isn't really convincing, coming across as more of a rake looking for a distraction than having a devoted love.

The strong characters come from Lucy Goleby's Pompey and Scarrus where Evans has turned the tables on the traditional gender of the roles. Goleby is gutsy as she expresses the roles as more confident women, ready to meet the men's strategizing head on. Zindzi Okenyo's gives Charmian a lovely elegance and gravitas whilst Janine Watson captures Alexas' cautious nature particularly after Cleopatra strikes out after she delivers news of Antony's marriage to Octavia.

With a diverse cast, ensuring that constraints of original character are considered irrelevant, Evans' interpretation supports and disproves the belief that woman can have power at the same time, highlighting the views of Shakespeare's world whilst delivering a subtle statement on contemporary views on women through the little looks between the characters as they pass silent judgment whilst continuing to express the submissive actions. Evans walks the fine line of pleasing those that may want to see the work as written whilst challenging the early 17th Century society with a layered production.

Beautiful staging and captivating physicality have come together for ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA for Bell Shakespeare's 2018 season opener which shares the ancient history of two great nations. Whilst expressing somewhat outdated views of what a woman is capable of, when faced with the old world views, we better realise how far we have come and how far we still have to go.

ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA

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