Robert Tanitch reviews Antony and Cleopatra at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London SE1
The most famous lovers in history are well past their sell-by date; insanely jealous of each other, they kiss away kingdoms. The triple pillar of the world, transformed into a strumpet’s fool, is so infatuated that he neglects duty and honour completely. However, any reminder of the contrast between what he once was and what he is now, instantly throws him into a temper. Clive Wood’s old ruffian is at his best when he wants to strangle Cleopatra.
The serpent of Old Nile has always had a bad press and Shakespeare, like everybody else, observes her through the biased eyes of Rome, who loathed her because they were frightened of her. There is no indication at all in his play of her intellectual powers, which were considerable. What we are given is almost a parody of sexual obsession, a woman of such infinite variety, that her mood changes minute by minute, and sometimes even in mid-sentence.
Eve Best, very English and very energetic, interacts with the audience and even the helicopters flying over the Globe. I never for one moment believed I was watching Cleopatra. I enjoyed Best’s wit most and especially her amusing scene with the frightened messenger (Peter Bankolé), harbinger, poor chap, of bad news.
Clive Wood encourages the groundlings to laugh when he bungles his death with the unfortunate result that they also think “I am dying, give me some wine” is hilarious. A much more appropriate laugh, because it is so typical of Cleopatra, is in the very final scene when she realizes Iris, her handmaiden, is dead and worries what she and Antony will be getting up to if she doesn’t join them immediately. She eagerly clasps the asp to her bosom. Queen
Sadly, contrary to Globe tradition, there is no dancing curtain-call in Jonathan Munby’s production. Instead his production opens with a dance, which goes on for far too long.