“Though it is honest, it is never good to bring bad news,” says Cleopatra to a messenger who delivers information she’d rather not hear. But though this Antony and Cleopatra will not be to everyone’s tastes, Frances Barber’s performance as Cleopatra can mean only good news for Globe-goers this summer.
Dominic Dromgoole’s production has taken the odd road of playing some of the most tense, overwrought moments of tragedy for laughs, bringing out the very human and fallible sides to these notorious lovers – if you have ever been crazy in love and known the maddening lust and emotional breaking points that can result, then go and revel in this production.
Part of the Globe’s Edges of Rome season, Antony and Cleopatra is the Bard’s sequel to Julius Caesar, set after this great ruler has died and Antony is left sharing power with Octavius and Lepidus. But so utterly captivated is he by Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, he neglects kingdom and country, a decision which splits Rome. And it is against this backdrop of political struggle as Rome’s triumviri seek to stave off threats from Pompey, that Antony and Cleopatra’s doomed love story unfolds.
Frances Barber is sublime as the bewitching Cleopatra and the excesses of this great queen are played to huge comic effect. Barber’s Cleopatra is the living embodiment of Congreve’s ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ and her bunny boiler tendencies bubble to the surface brilliantly when she verbally and physically whips the messenger who brings news of Antony’s marriage to Octavia, in a hysterical showdown repeated when ever her status as the ne plus ultra of attractive women is threatened. Cleopatra’s passion is indefatigable, she is capricious and controlling and befitting nobility, vainglorious and proud, and it is hubris, perhaps more than her love for Antony that leads her to take her own life, poisoning her self with asps to follow her lover to the grave.
Barber owns the stage, and is more than a match for Nicholas Jones’ Mark Antony, who is neither convincing as a lover or a fighter. The pair’s on stage kisses are hideously unconvincing, to the point that they are excruciating to watch. It is false news of Cleopatra’s death that propels him to take his own life, and the playing of Antony’s botched suicide as farce turns out to be a successful call, making him emblematic of end of an era Rome, the myths and might dying away, as his body is clumsily hoisted up to Cleopatra’s monument where he dies in her arms.
Backing this duo is a fine supporting cast, with Simon Muller’s Alexas standing out. Fred Ridgeway’s Enobarbus is also eye catching and you could almost hear a pin drop when he delivers the arresting description of Cleopatra on her barge, the vision that first stirred Antony.
Age cannot wither this tale and although heavy on the comedy and owing much to Barber’s talents, this rendering of Antony and Cleopatra will move you and remind you that love is indeed a double edged sword: it can give you wings and make you soar, but it can also turn you into an insecure, irrational nutter.