A Modern Take on a Classic Tour de Force: Bell Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra”

Last night I ventured forth from my apartment to go and see Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra” put up by the outstanding Bell Shakespeare theatre company. My initial thought after seeing that the majority of the audience were upper-middle class older couples was “this feels elitist,” followed by “at least they’re trying,” as I saw that single female millennials (who, like myself, would have benefited from an “under 30” discount) took runner up to the majority.

The entire show from top to tail was rock solid. The set was plush and innovative. The sound design, woven in with the haunting live singing from the actors, was chilling. Costumes were hardcore. Rather that being jarring or cheap, the projections added a certain dignity to the work. The lighting hurt my eyeballs at times but I think that was part of it? I lurved it all.

The choice to include the audience felt a bit harsh at times – particularly during Caesars monologue when addressing the public. As it was in the round, being able to see audience members’ faces across from me took me out of the play momentarily. However, I loved the gravitas of characters stepping out into the audience. As Antony steps out into oblivion, he mentally checks out. As he chooses to turn back around and rejoin reality, he is still not present and therefore becomes truly reckless and lethal. Cleopatra also walks into the audience but does not turn back; a symbol of her spiritual death, then not long after, her physical death. The clown enters from this limbo, showing us that he is otherworldly and a magical presence.

From watching this performance I felt the tug to consider Caesar and his sisters relationship. What does she whisper into his ear before leaving with Antony? Does it compel him to assassinate Pompeius, banish Lepidus and destroy Antony and Cleopatra? The actors beautifully kept their interpretation a secret, but I think so. I believe there is a second, equally fatal love story going on in the background. Octavius and Octavia were lovers, and he destroyed an empire for her.

People in the audience giggled during the gory deaths of Eros and Antony. It was bound to happen. It was done as realistically as possible whilst other violent acts in the play were only alluded to or portrayed figuratively. Since this production included a (freaking epic) dance number to Nick Cave, I think we could have gotten away with less “in yer face” deaths. The on-stage violence did not need to be so realistic when a great deal of the action was suggested and the style of the piece was, in its entirety, quite surreal.

But the main reason we were all there was for the actors. The incredible, amazing actors. They were so fabulous and, at times, luminescent. Occasionally I found myself looking into their eyes thinking, “what are you thinking? What’s going on in there? What particularisations are you picturing?” That may be their secret, but being able to tell that they all had secrets, made me think about what my secrets could be. Their work has me inspired.

Thank you Bell Shakespeare for another world class revival of this fantastic piece of literature. I’ll be thinking about this one for many yonks to come.


Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash

3 thoughts on “A Modern Take on a Classic Tour de Force: Bell Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra”

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