The legacy and expectation surrounding Shakespeare always makes his plays difficult to do justice to, but Alex Strouts and Caitlin Carr’s Antony ϟ Cleopatra succeeded in capturing the essence of Shakespeare’s devastating tragedy. Although there were a few slightly clumsy scene transitions and first-night mistakes, the acting was fantastic and the atmosphere in the crammed Pembroke Cellars was infectious.
This cast were brilliant at conveying the subtleties of Shakespeare’s language. Particularly notable scenes included the exchanges between Cleopatra (Beatriz Santos) and her women, military debates, and the final scene, which perfectly created the cathartic release the audience sought. Henry Eaton-Mercer’s performance as Antony’s devoted friend Enobarbus was outstanding, and the comic elements he brought to the play provided moments of humour and levity within the ever-present atmosphere of war, severity, and tragedy. The barge scene was phenomenal: very difficult and laden with expectations, Eaton-Mercer’s delivery enabled a scene to be envisioned that no staging could do perfect justice to.
The decision not to stage the barge scene was a good one, but some other staging decisions were less successful. The use of music between scene changes was a nice idea, especially as transitions involved a lot of prop movement and tended to be noisy and messy, but the choice of music seemed out of place.
The use of the projector during scene changes, and at other odd moments such as the barge description, could have been really exceptional if the images were not juxtaposingly modern and at odds with the overall theme and tone of the play. Although I liked the concept, it did spoil the play slightly to have clips of commuters on busy tubes, or images of stations in London projected behind characters. It didn’t seem to fit with the atmosphere that the actors were attempting to project.
Despite the slightly out of place music and projection, and some clumsy scene changes, there were many positives to this performance. The use of costume and design was very effective, with an elaborate display of various costumes modelled by Cleopatra. Make-up designer Lauren Perry must also be commended for her work, especially on characters' eye make-up.
Overall this was a very good performance, with strong characterisation, commendable costumes and some fantastic acting. Antony ϟ Cleopatra is a strong interpretation of Shakespeare’s text.