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Posts Tagged ‘Anthony & Cleopatra’

We seem to be going through a phase of filleting and re-ordering Shakespeare’s plays. The Donmar gave us a shortened Measure for Measure, twice in one evening, with gender swops between them. The National’s Anthony & Cleopatra started as it ended. Now the Almeida’s Richard II has lost an hour and nine characters and also brings forward a later scene. Somewhat ironically, this hyper-radical interpretation returns to Shakespeare’s original title. What comes out the other end is a frantic portrait of a country falling apart; not too difficult to identify with that at the moment. Shakespeare purists probably won’t like it; I found it bold, but not without its faults.

Eight actors play the thirteen characters remaining, in a large metal box, designed by ULTZ with excellent lighting by James Farncombe. in contemporary casual clothes. It’s somewhat manic in style, with fast speech and rapid movement and exaggerated gestures. Buckets of water, blood and soil (amusingly, labelled) get poured over characters and more gauntlets get thrown down in anger and challenge than you’re likely to have seen in your entire Shakespeare playgoing experience. There’s not a lot of subtlety, characterisations are weakened, verse loses beauty and the narrative of the play suffers……but it is a gripping 100 unbroken minutes and you can’t take your eyes off the stage.

The cast, led superbly by Simon Russell Beale as Richard, are uniformly excellent, but I didn’t feel Joe Hill-Gibbins production allowed them to get under the skin of their characters and reveal their psychological depth and motivation. I see Richard II as an introverted, introspective king who didn’t want to be king, uncomfortable with power, as most productions convey, and this didn’t come over here. Though I respect and admire the audacity and creativity, I didn’t find it entirely satisfying. It was a bit like watching the Tory party tearing itself and the country apart, and I’d done that before I got to the theatre that day, and indeed every other day at the moment.

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Only three this week (work up north!), starting with a bizarre Japanese Coriolanus. This was hard to follow; the title character seemed to have a basket over his head most of the time and he was accompanied by just a chorus of four. Again I read the synopsis before it started and followed the scene descriptions on surtitles, but I’m afraid I couldn’t make head or tail of it. Perhaps having seen a handful of Ninagawa’s epic Japanese Shakespeare stagings (and another this week!) I was expecting too much. A disappointment…..

…..unlike the Gujarati All’s Well That Ends Well, which was a huge treat. Relocated to early 20th Century India, it seemed completely at home. India’s caste / class tradition and attitudes to marriage somehow gave the play a particular relevance. There was some lovely musical accompaniment, lots of songs sung in character, some elegant dancing & lovely costumes, but above all a set of captivating performances. It was a sunny afternoon, and the show was as bright as the day – a charming, uplifting confection much like the Georgian As You Like It of the previous week. One of the best!

I wasn’t sure about the Turkish Anthony & Cleopatra when it started, There were a lot of distractions in a packed theatre and I was struggling to concentrate. I was won over by its pace and the quality of acting. The actors playing both title roles were excellent. Haluk Bilinger (a former EastEnder!) had great presence and authority as Anthony and Zerrin Tekindor played Cleopatra like a vamp on heat – they had terrific chemistry. Kevork Malikyan (also known to us from both TV and cinema screens) was an excellent Enobarbus, but I thought some of the smaller roles (messengers and attendants) were a bit overplayed. The simple staging (with excellent costumes) was very effective, particularly the sea battles played out by men swirling water-filled balls on chains – despite the fact I got wet (again!). No gimmicks. No liberties. Good storytelling.

So now it’s the last week. A Hebrew Merchant, Spanish Henry VIII, Afghan Comedy of Errors and a German Timon. I will have escaped London for Wales before the French get their hands on Much Ado or the Lithuanians gives us their Hamlet, but I will fit in Ninagawa’s Japanese Cymbeline at the Barbican! I wonder how the scenes in Wales will be played?…….

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