BWW Reviews: Stratford Festival's 'ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA'

William Shakespeare's ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA opened on Thursday night at Stratford Festival's Tom Patterson Theatre. Last performed at the festival in 2003, this production stars Geraint Wyn Davies and Yanna McIntosh as the famed Roman General and Queen of Egypt, respectively. Directed by Gary Griffin, and featuring many stellar performances, Shakespeare's perspective of this historic relationship is brought to life.

This play is the love story-and eventual tragedy of the Roman politician torn between his perceived duties (and marriage) in Rome, and a life of passion in Egypt with his lover, Cleopatra. At least this would be Antony's description of the play. Cleopatra would likely describe it as the tragic love story of the soulful and sharp witted Queen of Egypt and the Roman who repeatedly steals, then breaks her heart. Both would be right. Both worlds come to life in an effortless fashion and without much stage design. The purposefulness of the Roman characters, and the more emotional, playful, and earthy portrayal of the Egyptian characters all the audience to always be clear of exactly where they have been transported to. Furthermore, the stage design by Charlotte Dean may be sparse, but it, along with the lighting by Michael Walton is certainly effective. Egyptian hieroglyphics sprawled across a large platform on the stage are only clearly viewable in certain lighting, allowing a simple, yet effective transition from Egypt to Rome when the scenes require it.

As the two leads, Wyn Davies and McIntosh are excellent as always. Wyn Davies brings a charm and energy to Mark Antony-the man torn between two worlds. McIntosh portrays Cleopatra with the complexities that I wish every female character was written with. She is both passionate and intelligent, and despite her frequent subterfuge, the audience will empathize and root for her.

Ben Carlson is excellent as Octavius Caesar-bringing layers to what might otherwise appear simply as a cold-hearted conquer. He is a shrewd politician, who at times is inhumane, and he represents the practical, no-nonsense atmosphere of the Rome of the day, but he also shows a softer side. Upon learning of Antony's death, Octavius proclaims: "The breaking of so great a thing should make a greater crack: the round world should have shook lions into civil streets, and citizens to their dens. The death of Antony is not a single doom; in the name lay a moiety of the world" This is one of my personal favourite quotes from Shakespeare. It is so poignant that the character who takes the time to acknowledge that the world is a lesser place, or should at least show some physical manifestation of the absence of Antony, is none other than he who had essentially become his enemy. Through the play, Octavius expresses his annoyance, frustration and desire to defeat Antony, yet he shows his more honorable, human side in the end. Mr. Carlson is fun to watch in this role. He certainly never comes off as the antagonist, just someone with a different point of view.

As the final member of the triumvirate, Randy Hughson's Lepidus is also more drawn out and layered than what audiences have come to expect of this character. Often portrayed as sensitive, earnest, naïve, and even somewhat incompetent; Hughson's Lepidus is perhaps all these things, but he comes across far more as yet another tragic character than as a fool. Yes, there are moments of levity in his unsuccessful desire for everyone to just get along, but Hughson's portrayal of Lepidus causes the audience to ask 'is there something else going on here?' The character's health continuously declines throughout the play, and yet his focus is always on keeping Rome strong and keeping the triumvirate together. The fact that he is treated so poorly by Caesar and eventually betrayed and sent to a prison makes his story just as tragic as Antony's. The fact that these tragic events do not happen on stage and my empathy for him is still just a strong, is a testament to Mr. Hughson's character development.

Other strong performances come from the incomparable Tom McCamus as Antony's loyal-until-he-isn't friend Enobarbus, Daniel Briere's all-too-loyal Eros, and Sophia Walker who plays Cleopatra's confidante Charmian.

If you want to see classic Shakespeare performed by some of the best in the business, be sure to catch ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA at The Stratford Festival, now extended until September 28th.

Photo Credit: David Hou

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From This Author Lauren Gienow