Review: Passionate intensity with ingenious touches in Antony & Cleopatra

Josette Simon as Cleopatra and Antony Byrne as Mark Antony
Josette Simon as Cleopatra and Antony Byrne as Mark Antony

Roseanne Edwards reviews the RSC's production of Antony & Cleopatra at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford

This is a complicated story of fractured allegiances and a network of battles on land and sea, behind which is the main distraction - the electric and passionate love affair between Antony (Antony Byrne) and Cleopatra (Josette Simon).

Mark Antony, bewitched by Cleopatra, is drawn back to Rome after the death of his wife and his attention is diverted. He agrees to a new marriage to strengthen political ties but the bonds between him and his Egyptian queen remain.

Lives and loves are fragile and Cleopatra feigns her own death, leading Mark Antony to take his own life.

In an intense final scene, Cleopatra is entirely unwrapped by her servants and dressed in her regal robes for her own suicide. She takes the writhing asp from its basket, clasps the snake to her breast and dies.

Simon gives a commendable, multi-faceted performance as Cleopatra, excitable and volatile. Antony Byrne is her older lover - the strong, predictable power broker.

The show makes the most of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre’s staging and lighting with some great touches - the sea battles conducted using model ships are guided by the cast ingeniously.

The second play in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Rome season, this takes up where Julius Caesar ended.

It is directed by Iqbal Khan, who returns to Stratford for the first time following his critically acclaimed Othello (2015).

* Antony & Cleopatra runs until September 7. Call 01789 403493 to book.