The love story of Mark Antony and Cleopatra is one that has endured as a romance of epic proportions. After all, their illicit affair sparked the fires which burned down the people’s republic, and in its stead left the Roman Empire. No text explores the grandeur of this tragedy as well as Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, in which the writer masterfully sets the couples’ petty jealousies against those of Octavius, future Emperor of Rome, as he vies for control.
To take on such a critical text is no mean feat; the stakes are extraordinarily high and unlike some of Shakespeare’s other work where you may be able to cut out some of the superfluous characters, everything in this play is vital to the narrative. During this new age of social distancing, Acting Gymnasium manages to bring together a rather large cast to form the company of Antony and Cleopatra at Theatro Technis, whilst managing to maintain a safe environment for creatives and audience alike. In order to achieve this, the cast have formed bubbles amongst themselves for the duration of the run, which gives the company the scope to explore every aspect of the play viscerally, as well as textually, as they can maintain physical contact.
The production opens with an amazing energy which sets the pace very well. Direction by Gavin McAlinden is clear and concise, managing to hit the depth of the text with poignant moments of space, such as in scenes between Antony and Octavius, as well as tight impactful moments of harsh physical contact, like those between Antony and Cleopatra. Physicality is used expertly throughout, creating interesting shapes across the stage with the actors, making up for the lack of scenery. Pace is maintained well through the play, so that by the climax they have earnt the time to really let the tragedy resonate through the space, doing well to avoid rushing to the last line.
The cast is expertly chosen, with a wide range of performers from across the globe, who all have an amazing talent for tapping into the emotion of these intense scenes. Michael Claff, who plays Antony, brings a strength of body and of voice that is perfect to carry the role and set a standard across the performance. Hanna Luna, as Cleopatra, also brings a monarchical presence that allows her to command attention without even speaking (which is obviously a must for this character). Within the supporting cast, Emma Wilkinson Wright as Charmain, Anna Walden as Agrippa, and Joe Harrell as Octavius Caesar, all feature brilliantly within this production of many, with performances fully embracing the text and the direction of the production.
The only downside for me is that oftentimes many of the actors throw their lines away, drop off the ends of lines, or mumble through their words, resulting in a lot of the text being lost and therefore the specifics of the scene are hard to follow. As well as being a form of speaking which is not natural to today’s ears, every word written is vital and needs to be given the time and space to do so. It is also noted that the verse in the text does get somewhat lost amongst the prose, with lines of antilabe being missed when they are a clear marker as to the structure of the dialogue. With that said the actors have clearly spent a great deal of time understanding the text, as their delivery is spoken naturally and with emphasis in all the right places.
It’s wonderful to see Shakespeare again live on a stage and, given the current situation in which the a’s that has never resonated with me more than today, “Pray you, stand further from me”. Though whilst it’s important that everyone take heed of these words, ensuring the further regrowth of our industry, it’s equally as vital that patrons get back out to support these productions which are fighting valiantly to survive.
Antony and Cleopatra is playing at Theatro Technis until 4 October 2020. For more information and tickets, see Theatro Technis online.