Monday, June 30, 2014


Clive Wood and Eve Best take the title roles in Antony and Cleopatra Photo: Manuel Harlan
Reviewed by James Karas

Which of the following are you unlikely to experience in a production of Antony and Cleopatra: Airplanes whirring overhead, a baby screaming, cell phones ringing, cat whistles, an actor kissing a member of the audience?

If you see the production of the play at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, you have an excellent chance of experiencing all of them.

That is what is called “original practices” in the production of Elizabethan drama at Shakespeare’s Globe. Maybe airplanes did not fly over the original Globe Theatre and cell phones did not ring but the rest of the stuff probably happened and more boisterously. We are talking about the interaction between stage and audience which was almost surely a vital ingredient of productions then as it is now and a relaxed approach to the theatre that makes us look like stuffed toys.

It is not that the actors play down to the yardlings, the several hundred people standing around the stage, rain or shine. There seems to be a symbiosis created the minute the action begins. They actors do not discourage it of course. They thrive on it even if many of the exchanges would seem inappropriate if not worse in a “normal” theatre. For example, Eve Best as Cleopatra tells us that when Antony is away every man will seem like an Antony. She looks at a yardling and points a finger at him. He lunges as if to bite her index finger and gets a laugh. She bends down and gives him a kiss.

Antony kisses Cleopatra and the audience whistles in appreciation, admiration or jealousy. I am not sure what that two-note short-long whistle usually emitted by men at the sights of a pretty girl denotes on this occasion. Antony, you lucky guy?

The production then manages to be faithful to Shakespeare and perhaps the way it may have been done four hundred years ago in front of those boisterous and unruly Jacobeans.

That of course is only a small part of the production. Director Jonathan Munby wants us to have a robust staging with full appreciation of Shakespeare’s play. Clive Wood as Antony is very much the virile Roman who exudes manliness in love and war. If he is besotted by Cleopatra, well, who wouldn't be?

Eve Best is the best in the cast and the play depends on her to a great extent. She is a mature Cleopatra but has not ceased being sexually potent, still feline, powerful and frequently quite funny. She is magnetic in a way that attracts and dangerous in a way that should frighten most men. Not Antony, of course, as the two of them go to their destruction.

The play has a large cast and numerous episodes that move quickly on the Globe’s stage. The baby stops screaming, you ignore the mobile phone message texters and message readers and the airplanes go away. You do not take your eyes off Eve Best and the rest in this fine production.   

Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare continues at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, 21 New Globe Walk, London. www.shakespearesglobe.comThe Norman Conquests (2013)
Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann

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