Iqbal Khan mightily takes the reigns of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra at the Barbican as part of the RSC’s transfer of their Rome season. An explosion of colour and ceremony is aided by Robert Innes Hopkins’s brilliant stage design, allowing the drama of the piece to stir with its uncompromising power dynamics. This tragedy of affairs, corruption, revolt and war translates with ease, Khan and the cast have done well to make the Bard’s work feel approachable yet hold its dynamism.
Antony Byrne as Mark Antony commands with a bounding energy, though hen pecked by his lover Cleopatra (Josette Simon). It is without a doubt Simon who steals the show in only the way the capricious Queen of Egypt can. Basking in the halcyon glow of her country, Cleopatra contorts and controls those around her with juvenile ruses and quips that are delivered with sharp conviction.
However, this is not a one-dimensional reading of the character, far from it. Simon brings a fluidity to her performance that flirts the boundaries of dominance and obedience. Writhing with a feline prowess, she exudes a camp vigour that feels tactile, almost luxuriously erotic. During her final scene she strips bare to reveal, for the first time her real self, a fragile woman shrouded in insecurity.
You know a show’s musical score is going to be a winner when Laura Mvula is billed as the composer. Her recognisable layered approach to composing washes over scene changes and acts as a melodic catalyst for the rising tensions of the story. Most commendable is her introductory accompaniment to the opening sequence, which proves to be a real highlight- a shame really that these choral moments are only sporadic.
Amber James is an absolutely pleasure to watch and luckily we were able to interview this rising star earlier last month. James brings the humour to her role as Charmian with a blissful ease. It is obvious she has a firm understanding of her role and portrays the playful aid to the queen with a jocular spirit, never over stepping the mark in undermining Cleopatra yet never being taken advantage of.
Any Shakespeare fan needs to watch Josette Simon’s addictive volatility as the titular character; she is a star that breathes a refreshing complexity to the role. Khan’s production is beautifully crafted though these moments could be heightened to really convey the fiery nature of the piece. 4/5
Review by Niall Hunt.
Antony and Cleopatra is currently showing until Saturday 20th January 2018 at the Barbican Theatre. For more information on the production, visit here…
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