Antony and Cleopatra at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, summer 2002
Lisa Hopkins
Sheffield Hallam University

Hopkins, Lisa. "Review of Antony and Cleopatra at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre." Early Modern Literary Studies 8.2 (September, 2002): 19.1-2 <URL:

With Stuart Wilson as Mark Antony, Clive Wood as Domitius Enobarbus, John Killoran as Scarus, Ian Drysdale as Candidus, Israel Aduramo as Eros, Ross Waiton as Decretas, Julien Ball as Euphronius, Sinead Cusack as Cleopatra, Noma Dumezweni as Charmian, Kirsten Parker as Iras, Simon Nagra as Alexas, Christian McKay as Mardian, Ben Elliot as Diomedes, Trevor Martin as Soothsayer, Christina Barreiro as Lady, Charles and Louis Hamblett and Charles and Henry Phipps alternating as Alexander and Ptolemy, Stephen Campbell-Moore as Octavius Caesar, Clifford Rose as Lepidus and Proculeius, Sarah Ball as Octavia, William Whymper as Maecenas, Simon Scott as Agrippa, Steve Sarossy as Thidias, John Hopkins as Dolabella, and Julian Jensen as Gallus. Directed by Michael Attenborough. Designed by Es Devlin. Lighting by Tim Mitchell. Music by Paddy Cunneen.

  1. Going to see Antony and Cleopatra can sometimes be a daunting experience because it is so long. With this production, however, the converse very nearly applies: it is alarmingly short, with events unfolding at such breakneck speed that if you so much as blink you will probably have missed a crucial plot development. The Battle of Actium was won and lost by the (admittedly late) interval, and the entire thing comes in at only just over three hours. One of the principal reasons for this remarkable despatch is that a lot of lines have been cut, and the other is the simplicity and flexibility of the set, a panelled back wall bathed in soft golden light to suggest Egypt and harsh silver light to suggest Rome (with the single exception that the Egyptian rather than the Roman palette prevails in the drinking scene, suggesting the extent to which the influence of Egypt is here leaching into Rome). For most of the time, the sole furniture is two couchlike beds, pushed together for the Egyptian scenes and pulled confrontationally apart for the Roman ones. There are only two real additions to this minimalism: for the battle scenes, a panel at the back gives glimpses of an eerily futuristic combat, and the set is transformed into Cleopatra's tomb by the addition of a structure at the back which unfortunately looks like nothing so much as a coal bunker, and has the odd effect that Antony has to be lowered into the tomb rather than raised up to it. Cleopatra's reluctance to ascend to kiss him is also rendered entirely redundant by the fact that the Romans just march straight out of the bunker, though how this has been accomplished remains impossible to imagine.

  2. There are some other odd directorial choices. The sepulchral soothsayer reappears for no apparent reason as the world's most sinister clown, and the word 'worm' appears to have been taken entirely literally, since it was impossible to see, from halfway back in the stalls, whether Cleopatra had anything at all in her hand or was merely pretending to be holding something. Most puzzling of all is the casting, though. Stuart Wilson has neither the vocal range nor the stage presence for Antony, and though Sinead Cusack tried valiantly, she never succeeded in establishing any sense of a believable rapport with him. The real stars of the show were Noma Dumezweni's Charmian, a performance which promises much for the future, Clive Wood's Enobarbus, and Stephen Campbell-Moore's splendidly repressed and self-righteous Octavius Caesar, miserably uncomfortable when forced to drink and engage in swordplay in the drinking scene. This was a fine performance, and one which suggested that Campbell-Moore would be well equipped to deliver a truly magnificent Angelo. However, it was sadly one of the few really convincing parts of a generally rushed and unfocused production.

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2002-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).