REVIEW: Antony and Cleopatra (Pop-up Globe)

Review by Tim George

Natasha Daniel as Cleopatra

[Cleopatra comin’ atcha]

I have not read Antony and Cleopatra in years. It was never one of my ‘go-tos’, so my knowledge of its intricacies and minor details is almost non-existent.

However, even if you have not read the play, Antony and Cleopatra are not exactly obscure. Ask anyone on the street and they could tell you something about them— the doomed lovers who stood between Octavious Caesar and complete control over the Roman Empire.

Armies clash, lips lock, and lives end.

When it comes to Shakespeare, it’s never about the story, it’s always in the telling (already I can hear the complaints. ‘What about Pericles? Two Noble Kinsmen?’).

However, even to a layman, this is an interesting production on a number of levels.

While I cannot offer specific examples to compare with the complete text, there are several abbreviated sequences between the key dramatic scenes which push the story forward (especially during the final battle between Octavious and Antony’s forces). With snippets of dialogue from multiple cast members repeatedly running on and off stage, it acts like an aural montage. On paper it should not work, but the choreography is so well done that it does not come off as farcical.

One of the highlights of the show is the musical score by Sarah Nessia, which blends seamlessly with the performances, and adds zest to proceedings.

The most unique aspect of the production is the addition of a scene from by John Dryden’s All For Love, a confrontation between Cleopatra and Octavia. The characterisation of Octavia does seem to change in this sequence — the character is fairly muted in the Shakespeare text.

The cast are all pretty solid. Natasha Daniel and Reuben Bowen are strong as the title lovers — Daniel juggles Cleopatra’s various contradictions (queen, spoilt child, lover) with skill, while Bowen is believable as an intelligent, charismatic leader undone by his own passions. They both add a nice touch of comedy to the doomed lovers that makes them feel a little more vulnerable and relatable.

Grace Augustine projects a ribald swagger as the piratical Pompey, Tyler Brailey gets the biggest laughs as the eternally put-upon eunuch Mardian and Michael Jamieson adds a delicious sliver of camp menace to the scheming Octavious.

Occasionally the dialogue was a little hard to hear, but overall the cast had a strong understanding of the space’s acoustics. Even when a helicopter began an interminable presence in the second half, the cast’s voices came through clean and clear.

Adapted and directed by Vanessa Byrnes, Antony and Cleopatra is a streamlined version of Shakespeare’s play that manages to balance the play’s plot turns with a sense of wit and imagination.

Antony and Cleopatra is presented by Byrnes productions and plays at Pop-up Globe until 9 April. Details see Pop-up Globe

SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Leigh Sykes

 

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