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Armchair Reviewers Club - Round up of Week 6 (Antony and Cleopatra)

Hello, and welcome back to another week of Armchair reviews. his week we sat down and watched the National Theatre’s production of Antony and Cleopatra.

I always enjoy the National Theatre’s work with The Bard, regularly bringing world class performances with a fresh take on a classic tale, and this was no exception.

Antony and Cleopatra
, first performed around 1606, is the tale of Mark Antony, a ruler of the Roman empire, and the complex love affair with Cleopatra, the ruler of Egypt. It wouldn’t be a Shakespeare without a melting pot of complex themes of love, war, politics, rumour, betrayal, just to name a few. This production, directed by Simon Godwin and featuring Ralph Fiennes as Mark Antony and Sophie Okonedo as Cleopatra, shies away from none of this.

To start, a lot of you were very impressed with the work done by Set Designer Hildegard Bechtler and Costume Designer Evie Gurney:

'The production design was something to marvel at. Between the lavish and opulent world of Egypt, and the harsh coldness of Rome’s war rooms. It helped give the production a sense of heightened elegance'.
Philippa via Email

'I adored the set of Egypt’s palace, gave it a timeless quality to it. As the whole stage slowly rotated, you were met with a contrast of Italy – minimalist and blank. And then the dark, dirty battlefields. The stage acted well as offering very distinct locations.'
Graham via Email

'I have to applaud Evie Gurney’s work on Cleopatra’s costumes, each dress more opulent than the next. It gave her command of every space she was in, as soon as she was on stage, you knew who was in charge. Regal yet overflowing with grace and beauty'.
Jo via Email

The last point about Cleopatra’s costumes is a really interesting one. In a supporting video from the National Theatre, Evie Gurney goes on to explain how popular celebrities (such as Beyoncé) were an inspiration for their costume choice. I think it works really well, giving her a modern edge, and yet also a timeless quality to her look. Her costumes all complementing the set of Egypt highlighting her ownership over this place.

Another element of this production which Reviewers were particularly impressed with was the performances of our two leads:

'Playing with plays at home.... The phone rang and - coming back - was transfixed by Sophie Okonedo's expression. I came back again after the play. Scrolling through and stopping, randomly, 6 times for each lead actor. Fiennes with his brow furrowed, his slouched and stooped shoulder, drunken stare, hands gesturing command to his troops, body bent and turned towards the knife of Eros, the determined death. Okonedo's first magnificent 'ooooh' at the sight of Antony, her laughter and sorrow, joys and anger, every sinew strained towards the asp. Magnificent acting, every second of it.'
Alison via Email

'Seeing these two leads play with the roles was a marvel to see. Sophie – the playful, compassionate, powerful and borderline melodramatic Cleopatra. And Ralph – the brooding, past his prime, misguided Antony.'
Jo via Email

'Okonedo is so wonderful as this goddess on stage, helped by the wonderful costume, but it definitely her presence and ability to engage with the text that make her performance so powerful. I enjoyed her chemistry with Fiennes. They delved deep into the complex relationship of this pair of characters - he is using her to escape his past; she is using him to preserve her present. There is love, but it is very complicated.'
Graham via Email

'After one scene of seeing Sophie Okonedo on stage, I didn’t want her to leave. She is hugely entertaining as this iconic character, and she digs out every ounce of humour and passion in every line she is given.

I loved the chaos as she berates poor Eros physically and verbally for bringing the news of Antony’s new marriage. A scene that narrowly margins on absurd, but Sophie’s performance handles it beautifully. There is so much tragedy and pathos in her performance too, her final scene (with a real life snake!) is so mesmerising and heart breaking, to see her at her lowest low. A joyous performance to watch'.
Lilly via Email

'Their chemistry is just sizzling and electric. Antony – the scalding, ranting man past his prime, and Cleopatra – the loud, proud (and yet at times vulnerable) queen. They highlight the element of the play well that these two characters never have a moment alone together. Every scene together is a performance for their servants, generals or other members of the ensemble. Highlighting the performability of their relationship'.
Ellie via Email

It was an absolute joy reading these comments, as I had hoped that seeing these two world class actors on stage would be something to behold, so reassuring that they were. As everyone has put, I enjoyed every scene with these two and was waiting for their next scene together so I could see them play off each other.

And here are a couple of other thoughts from our reviewers which I thought were really interesting to note:

'I was anxious about starting this show. 3 ½ hours, 42 scenes, lots of politics and history to get your head around, it was certainly going to be an intense watch. However, Simon Godwin delivers a production which is engaging, has a swift cinematic feel about it (aided by the wonderful score and swooping set), and meant that this was a very enjoyable and swift 3 ½ hours.

I will admit, due to the skills of our two leads, I could not help but feel that any scene without them, particularly in Rome felt a little flat and cold. Although, I think this is more of a point to commend our leads than belittle the scenes without them.'
Matthew via Email

'I was not familiar about this story before this evening bar the basics; it’s a love affair between two famous leaders. And I know Shakespeare, when not done right, can be disengaging, difficult to follow and not an enjoyable night at all. However I can reassuringly say this was not the case this time. This production had all the glitz and glamour of a Hollywood movie, and the cast were so wonderful across the board that I immediately got a sense of who everyone was, their motivations and how this story unravels. A gem of a production'.
Jo via Email.

Thanks all for your wonderful comments; a really interesting week of emails.

With our production to review this week, and to add to the sense of variety, I thought we would review a musical. This week we will be watching Rifco Theatre Company's Mushy: Lyrically Speaking. This musical premiered last year and is based around a storyline featured in Channel 4’s Educating Yorkshire which became one of the TV talking points of the year. I’m really excited to see how the company have developed and expanded this story for the stage, and I look forward to hearing what you have to think too. Find the recording here: and let us know your thoughts, either via social media or by e-mailing [email protected]

Take Care Reviewers!

Dan Whateley
Programming and Events Coordinator