26th September -19th January
Run time – 3 hours and 30 minutes
Matinees 2 pm
Evenings 7 pm
Until January, you are able to see Simon Godwin’s Antony and Cleopatra at the National Theatre. Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo, the lead characters, are just the power couple the stage needed. The play is set in an ‘imagined present’, thus while the words are Shakespeare’s, the costume and set design are contemporary.
Antony, one of the three rulers of the Roman Empire is having an affair with Cleopatra, The queen of Egypt. Antony neglects his state duties to spend time at Cleopatra’s court in Alexandria. However, when, Antony’s wife Fulvia suddenly dies, his sense of duty returns. Rome has been suffering in his absence and he has been summoned to assist fellow members of the ruling triumvirate, Caesar (Tunji Kasim) and Lepidus (Nicholas Le Prevost), to manage the threat of war from Pompey (Sargon Yelda), a competitor of the leadership for the empire. Antony departs for Rome.
To prevent Antony from returning to Egypt, a marriage of convenience is proposed between him and Caesar’s sister, Octavia (Hannah Morrish). Anthony accepts and the marriage solidifies the alliance between Antony and Caesar. The play then portrays he Cleopatra deeply affected and moved by this event. While she was already having important mood swings, when she hears of Antony’s union she nearly drowns, dramatically, the messenger of the news
The play ends tragically. As Antony believes that Cleopatra has betrayed him and threatens to kill her- she retreats to hide from him, sending word that she has died. Antony attempts to kill himself but receives word that Cleopatra is still alive. He is then carried to her monument where he dies in her arms. Caesar learns of Antony’s death and sends for Cleopatra’s capture. Cleopatra is warned of his intentions and opts for death over an enslaved life.
The casting in this production is undeniably good. Sophie Okonedo as Cleopatra steals the show in the initial scenes, her voice is powerful and demands attention. She is a queen in every right from her flowing gowns to her dramatics. Ralph Fiennes as Antony somehow seems to be in Okonedo's shadow initially. Nonetheless, when the empire is falling apart, Fiennes bursts open and commands the stage with his now compelling and angry voice.
Aside from the title characters, the role of Enobarbus played by Tim McMullan is extremely entertaining. Tunji Kasim plays a calm and composed Caesar, who we never seems to loose control. He appears dignified and thus portrays Caesar's slyness impeccably.
The set design in this production is on an immense scale. With 42 scenes to get through the set rotates like a lazy-Susan. It transforms into Cleopatra's sunny palace to a cold grey meeting room in seconds. The set also fully reconstructs into a battleship that arises from underneath the stage. Along the music, the costumes are also striking. The department has also done an excellent job especially with Cleopatra whose outfits attract the eye immediately. Moreover, the suits worn during military meetings as well as the vacation outfit Antony wears, in the beginning, elevates the play somehow and makes it more relatable.
The National and Godwin have put up a production on an immense scale and one of pure class. This play is a must-see, and there might not be a chance we see Antony and Cleopatra on this level anytime soon. From the acting to the set design and to the music Antony and Cleopatra is an extraordinary play. Grab a seat and go!