An RSC cooperation with The Public Theatre, New York, and Gable Theatre, Miami
Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon – directed by Tarell Alvin McCraney
Mark Antony, the commander in chief who forgets his martial agenda over the sweet erotic springes of the tawny-skinned Queen Cleopatra, and in the process loses his part of the empire, his career and his life – this historical topic sounds like a reversal of the legends in which people succumb to the realm of fairies; here it is harsh reality prevailing.
Octavius, later to become God Emperor Augustus (btw, the month of August obtained its name just because of it being the month of the conquest of Egypt), then a not very promising 20-year-old heir to Julius Cesar, proves to be a statesman after all and wins the day and the Empire.
Tarell Alvin McCraney edited Shakespeare’s play about the fall of the Egyptian Empire and relocated it to a colonial, Caribbean setting, with the Romans taking the part of Napoleonic occupying forces on the island of Saint Domingue, today’s Haiti.
Cleopatra, played in an intoxicatingly sensual and impulsive manner by Joaquina Kalukango, is caught in a mutual spell with Jonathan Cake as Mark Antony, utterly convincing, quite dishy, and the archetype of a warrior/business man going astray. “She makes hungry where most she satisfies” (A&C, 2.2) – no doubt about that. But she, too, neglects her political day job.
Amongst the characters at Cleopatra’s court Chivas Michael deserves to be highlighted. As a spooky soothsayer he forecasts doom and as a eunuch, he contributes a series of wonderful funny moments, moreover, with his hypnotizing counter-tenor voice, he adds to the play’s intriguing atmosphere.
Sarah Niles as Charmian, lady-in-waiting to Cleopatra, also acts as warrior Menas and her colleague Iras, Charise Castro Smith, is also Octavia, Antony’s down-to-earth second wife. The profound difference in parts is easily mastered by both.
Samuel Collings portraying the underestimated Octavius/Napoleon displays a fantastically low key characterization in which the sizzling wrath of a geek is just about perceivable, right from the beginning.
Absolutely great: Chukwudi Iwuji, playing the part of Antony’s follower Enobarbus, he also offers semi-detached comments on the events, and, similar to the chorus in antique tragedies, he pronounces the audience’s germinating doubts and takes their eyes away from the all to obvious.
The music by Michael Thurber, with Andy Waterson on the guitar, Mat Heighwey on the bass and Akintayo Akinbode, as Music Director and on percussion, creates an ongoing spell of sensuality and tragedy.
Last but not least, an extra dose of praise to Gelan Lambert, responsible for movement, who with the Circle of Thirds, a drunk dance of the triumvirate Antony, Octavius and Pompey, created one of the most poignant (choreo-)graphic demonstrations of this moment in Roman history I have ever come across.
In the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon until 30 November 2013, in Spring 2014 in New York and Miami.
Photos by Hugo Glendinning
This blog post has also been published in German under http://artyviews.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/antony-cleopatra-genuss-ist-karrierefeindlich/