There was a sense last night that the Playhouse has a lot riding on this production – it felt like a will to herald in a new age, as it harked back to its past glories and former capacity to attract some of the best and best known classical actors of days gone by, like the Redgrave family.
So, for all that a play starring our own local girl made good (you may just have heard about this) Sex and the City actress Kim Cattrall and directed by the formidable Shakespearean Janet Suzman is a huge publicity coup, the Playhouse is not in the game of doing things just for show. This had to deliver the goods.
Cattrall gives a strong and exciting performance as the Queen of Eygpt, but some superb casting surrounded her with equally enthralling talent. The booming voice of her Antony, Jeffrey Kissoon, resonated with classical expertise. His nemesis Octavius Caesar (Martin Hutson) approached the text differently, but remained an entertaining, nuanced character throughout. Caesar’s sister, Octavia, was played by a man (Mark Sutherland) for reasons many couldn’t seem to fathom. But the striking similarity between the blonde siblings hinted at a more intense relationship.
So after the ‘didn’t read the play beforehand’ faux pas I’ll go on to commit another – after reading the other day that apparently it’s a bit pervy when critics comment on the attractiveness of cast members. But it remains Kim Cattrall is just stunningly beautiful as Cleopatra and so luminous it is difficult to take your eyes off her when she is on stage. It’s hard to put your finger on whether or not it’s the sprinkling of Hollywood stardust she brings or if this quality of hers would be just as remarkable if she were less well known.
With the greatest of respect to ol’ Will, Antony & Cleopatra can be a hard slog at times. It’s a story that is huge in scale and demands a lot of a first-time viewer. This production puts the romantic element in the background and focuses on politics, power and war, and this can sometimes get a bit complicated. As the supporting actors take on multiple roles, with anachronistic costumes and props, it is easy to get confused with whom each is supposed to be.
But still, there are some memorable scenes. The party scene where all the soldiers drink themselves into a merry stupor is a joy, and Cleopatra’s hysterical turn before the death of Antony is spellbinding.
Word too must be made of the set. At once a simple and ambitious series of high walls with a crossing bridge to split the stage, it’s hard to remember the last time any setting looked so at home on the Playhouse stage. Grand and reaching up high, it bought quite a different sense of scale to the old theatre. In fact, a lot of things about this production seemed right at home, and the pride in it was there for all to see. Cattrall looked rather moved as she took her bows – not all alone, the Hollywood diva basking in her audience, but firmly alongside the rest of the cast.
Picture by Stephen Vaughan.