Theatre Review: Antony and Cleopatra

Posted: January 25, 2010 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews


Directed and designed by:   Marthinus Basson
Cast – Tinarie van Wyk Loots (Cleopatra), André Weideman (Antony), Caesar (Andrew Laubscher), Eros (Clyde Berning), Sextus Pompius, a rebel (Nick Pauling) with a full cast. 
Review:   Astrid Stark

First published in the Sunday Independent, 24 January ‘10

Too much lust; not enough love. 

Tinarie van Wyk Loots (Cleopatra) Andre Weideman (Antony) Clinton Brown (Mardian)

Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra is a violent and epic enactment of love, lust, and power, delivered through some of his finest writing.  Graphic power battles between the world leaders at the time, and the tempestuous and all consuming love and lust between Mark Antony and Cleopatra, are some of its major themes.  Cleopatra is the ruler of a country, a mother, a wife and a lover.  She’s complex, extremely powerful, and fondly referred to as the Serpent of the Nile. 

From the very outset of director Marthinus Basson’s version of this play; confusion sets in.  Cleopatra, played by Tinarie van Wyk Loots, with a shaven head, and dressed in rather unflattering garb, enters the stage with her attendants in tow.   Her ever present eunuch is dressed in a copper g-string, candystriped leg warmers, and a tiny shirt that exposes his midriff. Cleopatra’s posse, lead by Charmian, with an equally ugly shaven head, delivers Shakespeare’s scathing humour and ironic words with all the finesse of the Spice Girls at a pool party.  

Van Wyk Loots’ initial interpretation and presence as the powerful Queen, for whom Antony wants to die, is unconvincing, with too much emphasis on the lust rather than the love, in their tempestuous relationship.  The incongruous outfits for the most part are distracting rather than adding to the richness of the story and its times.   The only time that the costumes effectively highlight the differences between the conservative and staunch Roman Empire, and the colourful hedonistic Egypt, is with the entry of Antony’s followers and the Triumvirs of Rome. Dressed in slick suits and briefcases they make a rather chilling display of turning the struggle for land and power into a shrewd business deal.

André Weideman takes on the difficult role of the mercurial Mark Antony.  Antony’s character is filled with incongruity and his capricious mood changes and fatal character flaws make him a very tormented and interesting character.  Weideman, who has something of the physical presence of Russel Crowe, and a pleasing voice, delivers his lines clearly and convincingly. It is only when he delivers some of Antony’s epic speeches that he seems somewhat out of his depth.  Van Wyk Loot’s Cleopatra comes into her own during the last few scenes.  Her microphone was ripped out during one of acts and it actually improved her performance.  With the sound coming through speakers, and with such a large and colourful cast, it sometimes takes a while to locate the speaker.  Perhaps better guided lighting might resolve this.

For the most part of the evening it appeared as if all the actors were so busy enacting Shakespeare that they were not interacting convincingly with one another.  The result is that the audience was laughing at the wrong moments, during Cleopatra and Charmian’s death scenes, as we had no empathy for the characters. 

Andrew Laubscher as Octavius Caesar, in a slick suit, gives a fair impression of a ruthless leader and delivers Shakepeare’s words convincingly and interestingly.  Brendon Daniel’s performance as Menas is one of the few actual frightening moments of the play.  Considering that the play is filled with war mongers, soldiers and warriors, one would expect a sense of danger to prevail, yet it is only Daniels, and at times Laubscher – as Caesar, that sends the occasional chill down the spine.  Daniels has put an interesting and dangerous twist into his performance and we really believe that he will do damage if he so chooses.

After the Triumvirate negotiate a deal with the rebel Pompey, there is a celebratory scene so lascivious that it had me squirming in my seat.  Shakespeare’ writing can be subtly lewd but the humour and meaning of it is most effective when it is somewhat understated.

The stage design is gratifyingly simple and is used to great effect during the boat fighting scene.   At one point a messenger runs in to bring awful news and he is wearing what looks like a full length white bridal gown; more giggles from the audience.  One of Cleopatra’s numerous costume changes includes slipping into a large pinstriped affair that looks just like something out of The Cat in The Hat.

The costumes are a huge distraction and an unnecessary addition to an already complex play.  The same can be said for the tiny child performers.  They feel like little inanimate props tossed in for good measure and serve little other purpose other than making one wonder why they are not in bed at 11pm. 

Antony and Cleopatra runs at Maynardville until 20 February 2010.

Then End.

  1. Justin says:

    O, the things they do to Shakespeare to sell tickets or make it more ‘accessible’ (though really your providing access to something other than Shakespeare, to a pageant).


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