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BWW Review: ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, National Theatre At Home

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BWW Review: ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, National Theatre At Home

BWW Review: ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, National Theatre At HomeContinuing their series National Theatre At Home, this week the world is treated to a wonderful version of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, with truly dazzling performances from Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo.

At the height of both their powers, one of the three rulers of Rome, the once-great Antony, becomes infatuated with Cleopatra, the dramatic Queen of Egypt. Choosing ego and love over duty leads Antony to make some fatal strategic decisions, leading to war, betrayal and death.

For Antony, there is a constant battle between reason and emotion and he is often the embodiment of contradiction. He is a true hero of the battlefield and yet he sacrifices his future for vanity and a woman.

Ralph Fiennes is a quieter Antony than some, but speaks his lines in a manner so natural that it quickly feels quotidian. Fiennes is utterly convincing and gives the deftest performance in showing a man desperate not to age; he knows he is past his prime but cannot bring himself to do what is his duty. He wants to retain the legend of the man.

Sophie Okonedo is simply wonderful as the capricious Cleopatra; petulant, yet poised. Whip-smart, witty, vain and charming. Okonedo focuses on Cleopatra's greatest power, also her greatest weakness; her willfullness rules everything. This is a woman who knows that she can do exactly what she wants and she is intoxicated by that power.

Okonedo is also very funny in her diva-like tendencies. When an unfortunate messenger arrives to tell her of Antony's marriage to Octavia, she dunks him under a fountain. Her pride and sense of honour is paramount. She kills herself not for love, but because she refuses to be a 'Egyptian puppet' to the Roman forces.

The pair also bring great nuance to the love story in the play. This is not simply a desperate and passionate love story; Antony wants Cleopatra so he can feel young and powerful, whereas she wants him to protect her future.

The rest of the cast is also spot-on. Tim McMullan makes for a sensitive Enobarbus, crippled at his own betrayal of Antony, the man he used to love and admire. Tunji Kasim shows the conflicting emotions of Caesar very clearly and Hannah Morrish is quietly heartbreaking as the abandoned Octavia.

Director Simon Godwin clearly has deep and fastidious knowledge of Shakespeare's text. He starts the play at the end with the discovery of Cleopatra's death meaning we all know where the play is heading right from the start. It then flashes back to an opulent, turquoise pool where the couple lounge as though pool-side somewhere in Ibiza. Cleopatra wafts around in the first of many of Evie Gurney's fabulous outfits, while Antony looks like the poster-boy for a mid-life crisis, with an open-necked shirt, flowing harem pants and hippy beads.

The Olivier's vast space is used to it's very best advantage by designer Hildegard Bechtler. With a modern-day look, the revolving stage comes into its own in conveying the back-and-forth between an austere Rome and a bling-tastic Egypt. There is even a submarine that rises from the depths as Pompey's ship. Tony Grech-Smith's direction for the screen is also superb, with well-considered camera positions and focus.

37 scenes are not easy to navigate; this is a long and complex play that Godwin manages to make feel fresh and clear. This is a love story, but also a complex, political thriller. By the end, the production feels a touch too long and the ending loses a little momentum, but this is not to detract from an otherwise cracking show. With superb performances from Fiennes and Okenedo, this production feels decadent, tragic and tinged with pathos.

Antony and Cleopatra is available on The National Theatre's YouTube channel until 14 May

Photo Credit: Johan Persson

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From This Author Aliya Al-Hassan