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Passionate new production to be performed in UK and USA
When the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) approached award-winning playwright and director Tarell Alvin McCraney about adapting a new version of Antony and Cleopatra, some of the key words involved were "be bold".
And this exciting version of Shakespeare's play is strikingly bold. In fact, it is as bold as it is passionate, which is suitably fitting for one of the most famous amorous couples in history.
Passionate and exciting, the RSC's new production of Antony & Cleopatra
Catching this RSC performance at the beginning of its tour at The Swan Theatre, in Stratford upon Avon, the action-packed story charts the love affair between the Roman general and the Egyptian queen as it ultimately leads to their downfall when they come up against the might of Rome.
Jonathan Cake is perfectly cast as heroic soldier and lover Mark Antony. Testerone oozes from his imposing muscular figure and the audience even gets a cheeky peek at his bare bottom early on. His constant charm, particularly with Cleopatra and Octavius Caesar, but also with the audience when he offers them a few cool smirks, exemplifies why women wanted him and men wanted to be him.
The play moves smoothly between the seductive lure of Egypt and the political tightrope that Mark Antony faces in Rome.
Visually, the difference is striking. While the Egyptians are in simple white robes, bathing in a pool on stage or frolicking aimlessly, the Romans are stiff, prim and clothed in starched military uniforms more reminiscent of the Napoleonic wars.
Octavius Caesar is a polar opposite of Mark Antony in every respect - petite, angst-ridden, untrustworthy and with a cold heart of steel (excellently played by Samuel Collings).
These two men's scenes together are choreographed so well, like moves on a chessboard, that there leaves no doubt to the power struggle bubbling under the surface. It's something to really relish.
But what of our great queen? Filled with African influences, this production displays Cleopatra as the excitable, manipulative and exotic temptress in a much more raw, natural way than often portrayed.
However, as good an actress as Joaquina Kaukango is, I am still unsure whether she comes across as mature or regal enough for Cleopatra in her final days. Billed as a woman "with infinite variety", we sadly don't get to see all the complexities of such a firecracker, mainly just Cleopatra the temptress or Cleopatra the jealous or angry lover.
One of the main bonuses to this production lies with the detail of the minor characters. There's a lovable, singing eunuch; the strong-willed female fighter supporting rebel Pompey; and the fantastically tribal way that the dead are taken into the underworld.
And standing out amongst the strong cast is actor Chukwudi Iwuji as Mark Antony's right-hand-man Enobarbus. He has been edited into becoming our narrator but effortlessly commands attention whenever he is on stage. You look forward to his every appearance.
Chukwudi Iwuji has a standout performance as Enobarbus in Antony and Cleopatra
The RSC has co-produced this play with New York's Public Theater and GableStage in Miami, so following its stint at The Swan Theatre in Stratford upon Avon until November 30, it will head across the pond to America.
Antony & Cleopatra will then be performed at The Colony Theater at Miami Beach from January 11 to February 9 next year before showing at The Public Theater in New York from February 18 to March 23, 2014.
So, it's well worth catching this new edit of the Shakespeare play whether you are in the UK or the US as it combines the passion with the politics in a riveting way. It also adds a notch of humour as well as the raw African beat of the Egyptian queen's heart.