Geraint Wyn Davies (left) as Mark Antony and Ben Carlson as Octavius Caesar in Antony and Cleopatra. Photo by David Hou.
Reviewed by James Karas
The Stratford Festival plans to film all of Shakespeare’s plays over the next ten years. It has already released three productions, King Lear, King John and Antony and Cleopatra and one can express only gratitude for the plan and restrain from griping (almost) about some of the defects.
The 2014 production of Antony and Cleopatra was directed by Gary Griffin in the Tom Patterson Theatre with an outstanding cast. The filmed version looks great on the big screen and it would have looked even better if Barry Avrich, the director for film exercised restraint and better judgment.
Geraint Wyn Evans gives a powerful performance as Mark Antony, one of the three men who took over the fate of a significant part of the western world after the assassination of Julius Caesar.
We see Antony in the fall if not winter of his life, living in Egypt and besotted with Cleopatra. Wyn Davies shows us Antony’s passion, arrogance, decency and his lack of the killer instinct. Antony has an agreeable face and is ready to grin, even smile. He is also arrogant and unable to stay away from Cleopatra despite his political duties in Rome. A superbly nuanced performance by Wyn Davies.
He is well-matched by the passionate and histrionic performance of Yanna McIntosh as Cleopatra. This is a Cleopatra to be reckoned with. She is irrational, cunning, imperious and ambitious. McIntosh gives an outstanding performance.
It is interesting to compare Mark Antony with Ben Carlson’s Octavius Caesar and Brian Tree’s Pompey. The latter is a straight-laced soldier – dour, unsmiling, and “regular army,” as they say. He too lacks the killer instinct to eliminate his opponents. Octavius has a kindly-looking face but he is ambitious, crafty and duplicitous. Not surprisingly he ends up as the emperor. Lepidus, the other member of the triumvirate, played well by Randy Hughson, is an ineffectual old man and a peacemaker. He is easily eliminated.
Yanna McIntosh as Cleopatra and Geraint Wyn Davies as Mark Antony in Antony and Cleopatra. Photo by David Hou.
The large cast performs very well with some distinguished performances by Tom McCamus as the Enobarbus, Antony’s friend who eventually betrays him; Sophia Walker as Charmian, Cleopatra’s faithful servant and Sean Arbuckle as Mecenas.
On the large screen we are able to see facial expressions and movements that are impossible to notice in the theatre. We can see every grimace and expression of Wyn Davis and McIntosh as well as every wrinkle in McCamus’s expressive face.
The cameras capture all angles of the thrust stage of the Tom Patterson. Depending on where you are seated, you are bound to lose some or much of the performers’ faces in the theatre.
But there is such a thing as too much detail and far too many camera angles and close-ups. Avrich keeps clicking on different angles when the actors and the scene are perfectly visible. Just let us listen to what is being said and what is happening in the scene. We do not need a different angle every few seconds. You get the feeling that Avrich has no idea what a performance looks like in the theatre and is treating us as if we are watching a television show.
It is a constant complaint of mine and perhaps we can get some theatre goer to direct the filmed versions of plays - someone who knows the benefit of concentrating on the play instead of on camera angles.