Sunday, 17 August 2014

Antony and Cleopatra

Antony and Cleopatra:  Marvelously complex Cleopatra carries tale of tragedy

Stratford Festival
Tom Patterson Theatre
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Gary Griffin
Approximate running time: 2 hours and 50 minutes (with one 15 minute interval)
August 14-September 20
Toll-free: 1.800.567.1600

STRATFORD – Equal parts tragedy, comedy, historical drama and social commentary, Antony and Cleopatra is arguably one of the most difficult Shakespearean works to label in a conclusive manner.
Yet one indisputable aspect of Stratford’s current production is that a genuine star has emerged from what is an excellent top-to-bottom company – Yanna McIntosh as a scintillating, seductive yet strangely heroic figure Cleopatra.
There is simply no trace of either McIntosh or director Gary Griffin being trapped by the traditional notion that the play is solely about the great general Mark Antony (Geraint Wyn Davies) tragically falling from grace into the arms of a nefarious Egyptian strumpet.
While a seductress, she is not a stereotypical villain.
McIntosh imbues her character with mesmerizing sensuality, coy playfulness mixed with regal power, grace of movement and even a measure of tragic heroism. Her Cleopatra is a full-bodied character – wonderfully provocative and enticing in her final love scene with Antony yet desperately isolated in her dying moments.
If there is a sense that the production may lack the necessary moments of passion at times or clouds some of the points Shakespeare was trying to make on a larger human scale, McIntosh’s performance leaves no doubt as to what an incredibly complex character Cleopatra was as a protagonist, not an antagonist.
Wyn Davies is her equal as Antony, boisterously rushing from one end of the intimate Tom Patterson stage to the other, seizing the moments of triumph with grandeur and majesty and then ultimately crashing to the ground in final despair, a man without love, country and his beloved Rome.
To say director Griffin keeps the production moving at a brisk pace may be a huge understatement, even though the play clocks in just under the three hour mark. There’s no question that the time allotment may in fact not be enough to properly address the number of political machinations, character interactions and grandiose battles envisioned by Shakespeare.
Yet, while not the perfect rendering, the cast is without fault. Ben Carlson is a delightful egomaniacal Octavius Caesar. Tom McCamus delivers yet again with Enobarbus, Antony’s closest ally and a man torn apart by his loyalty to his friend and his personal debate over abandoning him. And the always reliable Brian Tree as the rebellious Pompey.
With a minimalist approach to set design, an evocative array of costumes (particularly for some of Cleopatra’s attendants) and effective, yet not overwhelming sound effects, Antony and Cleopatra is largely a successful theatrical venture.
A complex work that may admittedly leave some still perplexed, the production offers audiences the chance to revel in delight, watching McIntosh astonishingly moving Cleopatra woo her tragic Roman lover to his tragic end.
4 out of 5 stars

Photo: Yanna McIntosh as Cleopatra and Geraint Wyn Davies as Mark Antony in Antony and Cleopatra by David Hou.

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