15 Jul Antony & Cleopatra
Directed by Andrew Hilton
March 26th – 2nd May 2009
Production Photos © 2009 Graham Burke
Mardian & Octavia Dani McCallum
Canidius & Dolabella Marc Geoffrey
Scarus Clive Hayward
Mark Antony Alun Raglan
Cleopatra Lucy Black
Philotus Dan Winter
1st Messenger Richard Jones
Charmian Catherine McKinnon
Alexas Paul Currier
Soothsayer Jonathan Nibbs
Iras Nadia Giscir
2nd Messenger David Kelly
Enobarbus Simon Armstrong
Octavius Caesar Byron Mondahl
Lepidus & Dercetus Paul Brendan
Maecenas & Clown Paul Nicholson
Agrippa Chris Bianchi
Pompey & Eros Tom Sherman
Menas & Thidias Alan Coveney
Director Andrew Hilton
Associate Director Dominic Power
Assistant Director Kate Lamb
Set & Costume Designer Harriet de Winton
Costume Supervisor Rosalind Marshall
Lighting Designer Tim Streader
Sound Designer & Composer Elizabeth Purnell
Choreographer Jonathan Howell
Production Photographer Graham Burke
Musicians Will Slater (oud & bouzouki)
Paul Harris (trumpets)
Production Manager Joanna Cuthbert
Stage Manager Jayne Byrom
Deputy Stage Manager Eleanor Dixon
Assistant Stage Manager Fiona Jane Coombe
Stage Management Trainee Kate Mander
Carpenter Martin Moyes
Costume Maintenance Miri Birch
Costume Assistant Sophie Borton
Costume Laundry Kim Winter
★★★★ The Times Black is Queen of all she surveys. For Julius Caesar, the first production of this year’s two-play Shakespeare season here, the actors wore the Jacobean costumes belonging to the time in which the play was written. In the sequel we have moved forward a generation, to the eve of the English Civil War, and if Octavian Caesar, the eventual victor, is not a total Roundhead he is at least more soberly dressed than his intoxicated rival, Antony. The furnishings are aptly minimal for a play constantly on the move around the Med — hard seats indicating Roman sobriety contrasting with the comfortably stuffed chairs in Egypt. The dresses worn by Cleopatra and her ladies are diaphonous and exquisite.
Lucy Black’s performance as the Queen is, in a word, superb. In another word: charismatic. Not only does she revel in the outbursts, but she shows Cleopatra revelling in them, pretended rage segueing into real rage and out again. She paces, arms akimbo, snarls, grins and flutters her hands in a dismissive gesture showing herself to be too self-absorbed for ordinary niceties. She is wholly the woman who has long known absolute power. In her speaking of the lines her voice is clear, emphatic and tonally varied. Who could fail to be enchanted by her?
What is curious is that she finds the production’s Antony enchanting. Alun Raglan conveys nobility in his moments of defeat, aghast at the emptiness of his future. He does not say, like Othello, his occupation’s gone, but his suddenly hollowed face shows this. The Antony of this play is a soldier sapped of will and, though I don’t know how an actor sets about suggesting a glamour that has gone, it is a quality that Raglan truly recovers only when Fate turns against him.
Andrew Hilton’s justly acclaimed Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory is a company ten years old and, as always, his expertise in casting animates the fleeting roles of messenger, soldier, soothsayer and the like. Among the more complex roles we have a grimly disillusioned Enobarbus from Simon Armstrong, watching Antony’s every error with gathering dismay and, in his famous description of Cleopatra’s barge, keeping the gathered soldiery in thrall. Byron Mondahl’s steely-eyed Octavius develops the assurance evident in the earlier play into a fascinating portrait of unswerving and ruthless will, affected only for a moment by his adversary’s death. Total power is his aim and finally he has it. Jeremy Kingston
The Observer Theatre in Bristol is at a turning point. For the worst part of two years the Bristol Old Vic has been dark. Now comes the cheering news that Tom Morris, who has helped to reinvigorate the National under Hytner, has been appointed artistic director. Let’s hope he forges an alliance with Andrew Hilton, who has kept the Bristol banner flying at the wonderful Tobacco Factory, with Shakespeare productions which both swell and whisper, which are full of stars but free of celebrities.
His Antony and Cleopatra is no exception. Stripped of faux-Egyptian baloney – there’s not a batting eyelash or clanking necklace in sight – it has in Lucy Black a Cleopatra who is fierce enough to win The Apprentice, or murder her sister, and yet is full of a settled sadness. You can almost hear the power leaking out of Alun Raglan’s bell-voiced, once-commanding Antony, while Byron Mondahl’s Caesar pads watchfully around, anxious and waspish. The smallest things are telling. As Enobarbus, Simon Armstrong, having resolved to leave his master, shrinks slightly from his unsuspecting embrace. The pearl that Antony gives his queen is made into a ring, which glints on her finger throughout the couple’s defeats and victories, a token of their history. Charmian and Iris, giggling best friends in Stuart silks (the costumes are inherited from Julius Caesar but don’t distract) watch every move of the lovers, magnifying each gesture with their reactions. Susannah Clapp
★★★★ The Mail on Sunday A tiny space, little money, no stars. At first glance, Bristol’s Tobacco Factory couldn’t have less going for it. And yet – while the well-funded, beautiful Old Vic down the road languishes, hopefully to emerge phoenix-like from the ashes later this year – this theatre goes from strength to strength, a beacon in the theatrical gloom that is South-West England.
Actually, the teeny in-the-round stage is a big advantage for Andrew Hilton’s revival of Antony & Cleopatra. Instead of the operatic spectacle and scenic excess that can often swamp Shakespeare’s last and greatest love-tragedy, here we find speed, intimacy and directness. The smallest details reveal the bigger picture: Cleopatra, bereft when her beloved Antony puts work before pleasure, forever fiddles with the huge pearl ring he sent her; Antony’s half-ponytail, laced in gold ribbon, not at all Roman nor military, marks him as a slave to Egyptian sensuality …
Clear storytelling and precise and penetrating characterisation is what counts here. Black’s diminutive Cleopatra is girlish, impulsive, emotionally extreme; not beautiful but beguiling. It’s her energy that has knocked Alun Raglan’s Antony for six and drained him of his once legendary fight. Indeed, there’s little left of the brash warrior in this Antony. Raglan, who in his haste swallows too many words, has an edge of melancholy that suggests he is all too aware that he’s lost the bigger plot and can’t help himself.
And when the lovers are together, usually kissing and wrapped up in one another’s arms, they create their own world in which nothing else – not losing empires nor making fools of themselves – matters.
A wonderful play very well done. Georgina Brown
★★★★ The Guardian This bold production begins with the powerful lovers saucily enveloped, his legs wrapped around her. The Egyptian court is imagined as feminine and hedonistic, all flowing robes and easy, barefoot physicality. Alun Raglan’s bare-chested Antony, his hair scraped back into an unkempt pigtail, and dressed in what could be fancy yoga-wear, looks set for a beach party in Goa. Cleopatra, thrillingly played by Lucy Black, has her eyes intently trained on him. It is, ever so simply, very sexy.
You think back to this moment of sensual liberty throughout Andrew Hilton’s production, as political ambition, empire-building and the ravages of war trample on the possibility of establishing a personal bond between Rome and Egypt. As always, Hilton’s strength lies in making an advantage of limited funds (80% of the funding here comes from box-office takings) to produce a stripped-back work that confidently confronts us with the power of Shakespeare’s verse. The staging is minimal, the costumes unobtrusive, and the lighting dims as the hope of love, and peace, fades.
With his fine ensemble cast, Hilton keeps the audience rapt for three and a half hours. It’s not perfect – Raglan’s delivery could be clearer – but it is absolutely compelling. The lovers’ last scene together echoes the first, but this time her legs hug his bloody, dying form, reminding us of the journey they, and we, have taken. It was messy and doomed, and yet, like this production, spirited and irresistible. Elisabeth Mahoney
★★★★ The Daily Telegraph … In Bristol, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory is celebrating its 10th anniversary in style, with a compelling revival of Antony and Cleopatra that reminds us how director Andrew Hilton has succeeded in putting this out-of-the-way spot on the map. He has gathered a first-rate ensemble, led by Lucy Black’s husky, mercurial and wholly mesmerising Cleopatra and Alun Raglan’s martial, broodingly intense Mark Antony. The no-frills evening moves along with vigour, intelligence and clarity. Warmly recommended. Dominic Cavendish
In Julius Caesar Shakespeare imagined a classical Rome through the lens of late Elizabethan anxieties and enthusiasms. In our own production, we chose to shift the focus forward a little, setting the action in the costume of the 1640s in an England on the verge of civil war. Shakespeare’s Rome seemed to us to be as English as that, and the play extraordinarily ominous of the conflict, and regicide, to come.
In Antony & Cleopatra Shakespeare revisits and develops his Rome, but sets it against a new imagining, Egypt. This is not as might be recorded by an archaeologist or a historian. It is neither North African, nor Middle-Eastern. Cleopatra is its Queen and head of state, but it is a state that requires no apparent administration or control and has little reality outside the confines of her remarkably informal and feminine court. It is hardly a physical place at all, more an optional condition of the human spirit and male imagination – a place that, above all, is not Rome; private, not public; an empire of infinite wishes and desires, not one of subject lands patrolled by armies of Roman policemen.
But in other tragedies of love – in Romeo & Juliet or Troilus & Cressida – the discreet, private world is overwhelmed and destroyed by a public world which has hardly registered the former’s fragile existence. Here Antony and Cleopatra’s private passion assumes a public profile and scale that threatens the integrity of Rome’s world, making its destruction not incidental, but necessary.
Date & Sources
We think it likely that Shakespeare wrote Antony & Cleopatra in 1606 or 1607, though some scholars have argued that it was earlier. If 1606/7 is correct then it is placed between Macbeth and his other great Roman tragedy,Coriolanus.
A greater mystery is the date of its first performance. Though it is widely assumed to have been performed soon after its composition, there is no actual record of any such performance, and the earliest text we have, in the First Folio of 1623, appears to be based on the author’s own draft, rather than an acting company’s ‘prompt’ script.
Premiered or not, after the 1660 Restoration and the re-opening of the theatres Shakespeare’s text languished for nearly a century, displaced by more Senecan retellings of the story (including ‘corrected’ versions of Shakespeare’s play) until David Garrick had the courage to mount a production at Drury Lane in 1759. Even then, the play was bowdlerised and reshaped to accomodate 18th century taste and stage conventions.
In the following century and a half the play was frequently revisited, but overwhelmed by the growing passion for spectacle in the theatre, for which the play’s many rapid changes of locale were not intended. Shakespeare could shift his audience from Rome to Egypt, and back again, with just a few words; the nineteenth century audience demanded that the same feat be accomplished by carpenters and scene-painters, and many scenes were cut to make time for their efforts to be displayed.
It was not until 1922 that Shakespeare’s text was allowed to flow uninterruptedly, in a production by Robert Atkins at the Old Vic in London. A series of revivals followed and it has remained popular ever since – though it is probably the case that no two leading actors have truly claimed the lovers as their own, in the way that each generation has found a Hamlet, or a Macbeth, or a Rosalind.
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In writing Antony & Cleopatra Shakespeare enjoyed a wealth of historical sources and would have been familiar with previous incarnations of the story in prose, verse and drama, some of them by his own contemporaries. But by far the principal inspiration – just as it was with Julius Caesar – was Plutarch’s Parallel Lives of the Greeks and Romans.
Plutarch was a Greek living in Nero’s Roman Empire in the 1st century AD less than a hundred years after the events of the play. Some of his material had been handed down through his family; they had suffered at the time of the battle of Actium in 31 BC, and also had stories to tell of Mark Antony’s extravagant exploits in Egypt.
The Elizabethans had an English ‘Plutarch’ to hand – a translation by Sir Thomas North, prolific biographer, philosopher and translator, who also managed to have a busy military career, both in Ireland and in the Low Counties, fighting for the Dutch against the Spanish. Shakespeare borrowed freely from North’s work, first for Julius Caesar, and then for Antony & Cleopatra, Coriolanus and Timon of Athens. North may have seen Julius Caesar at the Globe, but died in 1604 in ignorance of the greater glories that were to come.
from Plutarch’s ‘Lives’, translated by Sir Thomas North
Of the first meeting of Antony & Cleopatra
The manner how he fell in love with her was this. Antonius, going to make war with the Parthians, sent to command Cleopatra to appear personally before him when he came into Cilicia, to answer unto such accusations as were laid against her, being this: that she had aided Cassius and Brutus in their war against him. The messenger, Dellius, when he had throughly considered her beauty, the excellent grace and sweetness of her tongue, nothing mistrusted that Antonius would do any hurt to so noble a lady, but rather assured himself that within few days she should be in great favour with him. Thereupon he did her great honour and persuaded her to come into Cilicia as honourably furnished as she could possible, and bade her not to be afraid at all of Antonius, for he was a more courteous lord than any that she had ever seen.
Cleopatra, on the other side, believing Dellius’ words and guessing by the former access and credit she had with Julius Caesar and Cneius Pompey, the son of Pompey the Great, only for her beauty, she began to have good hope that she might more easily win Antonius. For Caesar and Pompey knew her when she was but a young thing, and knew not then what the world meant. But now she went to Antonius at the age when a woman’s beauty is at the prime, and she also of best judgement. So she furnished herself with a world of gifts, store of gold and silver, and of riches and other sumptuous ornaments, as is credible enough she might bring from so great a house and from so wealthy and rich a realm as Egypt was. But yet she carried nothing with her wherein she trusted more than in herself and in the charms and enchantment of her passing beauty and grace.
Therefore when she was sent unto by divers letters, both from Antonius himself and also from his friends, she made so light of it and mocked Antonius so much that she disdained to set forward otherwise but to take her barge in the river of Cydnus, the poop whereof was of gold, the sails of purple, and the oars of silver; which kept stroke in rowing after the sound of the music of flutes, howboys, citherns, viols, and such other instruments as they played upon in the barge. And now for the person of herself: she was laid under a pavilion of cloth of gold of tissue, apparelled and attired like the goddess Venus commonly drawn in picture; and hard by her, on either hand of her, pretty fair boys apparelled as painters do set forth god Cupid, with little fans in their hands, with the which they fanned wind upon her. Her ladies and gentlewomen also, the fairest of them were apparelled like the nymphs Nereides (which are the mermaids of the waters) and like the Graces, some steering the helm, others tending the tackle and ropes of the barge, out of the which there came a wonderful passing sweet savour of perfumes, that perfumed the wharf’s side, pestered with innumerable multitudes of people. Some of them followed the barge all alongst the river’s side; others also ran out of the city to see her coming in; so that in the end there ran such multitudes of people one after another to see her that Antonius was left post-alone in the market-place in his imperial seat as to give audience. And there went a rumour in the people’s mouths that the goddess Venus was come to play with the god Bacchus, for the general good of all Asia …
The People of the Play…
The play is set in Italy, Greece and Egypt, beginning four years after the death of Julius Caesar. The Roman Empire is now ruled by a triumvirate of Octavius Caesar , Mark Antony and Lepidus. As the play opens Antony is in Egypt with Cleopatra, while Rome is under threat of a revolt by Sextus Pompeius.
Octavius Caesar is the great nephew and adopted heir of Julius Caesar. On Julius’ death, and the collapse of the Roman Republic, he formed the ruling ‘triumvirate’ with Mark Antony and Lepidus. After first being part of the triumvirate’s deal with Sextus Pompeius, he welches on it and defeats him, then forces Lepidus into retirement, and finally defeats Antony at the battles of Actium and Alexandria. He becomes sole Emperor. He will be renamed Augustus and rule for over 40 years.
Mark Antony was instrumental in the defeat of Julius Caesar’s chief assassins, Brutus and Cassius, at the battle of Philippi. When the play opens he has become infatuated with the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra and is neglecting both his own Roman wife, Fulvia, and his responsibilities as an imperial triumvir. He is briefly reconciled to Octavius Caesar in order to repulse the threat from Sextus Pompeius and – following Fulvia’s death – marries Octavius’ sister to cement their new accord. It breaks down nonetheless. Antony deserts Octavia and returns to Cleopatra. The play covers events that in reality spanned the whole last decade of Antony’s life before his death at 52.
Lepidus was one of Julius Caesar’s greatest supporters and for some time deputy to him during his dictatorship. As a triumvir he first controlled parts of Gaul, Spain and Africa, but later lost Spain and Gaul to Antony and Octavius. He helped Octavius to to defeat Sextus Pompeius and then challenged Octavius himself, but his soldiers defected and he was forced to retire. Shakespeare omits this challenge to Octavius – a modification to history that fits with Shakespeare’s portrait of Lepidus as a much weaker character than he was in reality.
Cleopatra is the Queen of Egypt, at the start of the play an independent kingdom outside the Roman Empire. She has famously had an affair with Julius Caesar and, according to Plutarch, another with one of the sons of Pompey the Great. Historically, at the start of the events of the play she was 29, at the end 38. On her death Egypt is seized by Octavius and incorporated into the Roman Empire.
Pompey [Sextus Pompeius], is the surviving son of Pompey the Great who was murdered by Julius Caesar. During the play Sextus assembles a naval force that threatens to overwhelm Rome, but accepts a deal with Octavius, Antony and Lepidus that awards him Sicily and Sardinia. Octavius later drives him out of both and he is killed.
Enobarbus, a professional soldier and Antony’s closest associate, is largely Shakespeare’s invention. His name means ‘red-bearded’ and may have been chosen by Shakespeare to echo Christ’s betrayer, Judas Iscariot, also a redhead.
Octavia is Octavius Caesar’s sister. A widow, she married Mark Antony at the age of 30 and in reality had two children by him before he deserted her for Cleopatra. In the play it is as if the marriage lasts only weeks.