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Bemusing and nutty - Antony and Cleopatra at the RSC

Published by: G.D. Mills on 25th Mar 2017 | View all blogs by G.D. Mills

Iqbal Khan’s swiftly moving, ever-bustling production of Antony and Cleopatra superabounds with sex, death and exoticism. From the outset we are invited into a world that is Other: a hypnotic tribal dance dissolves suddenly to reveal a sexually-charged, post-romp exchange between two radically divergent figures.

This spectacular clash of cultural and physical difference sustains our wonder for a good while: a tall, black, slender Cleopatra prowls the stage like a feline on heat, while the pink-skinned, ginger-haired Antony lumbers, heavy as an ox. While opposites, as the adage goes, attract, this takes us to a whole new level.  

And while Josette Simon’s performance is undeniably memorable, perhaps even show-stealing, it is difficult to get a grasp on. Her voice does unusual things. At one stage she mimics a squeaky pitched little girl, and at others drops to a heavy, African bass, but even at her normal register she gives us a kind of rarefied Jamaican lilt, with heavy stresses hurled onto every fourth or fifth word.

This is not Shakespeare as I know it, or Cleopatra as I know her, but something quite Other, which is, to be fair, exactly what Cleopatra is meant to be. And so what we are given is a performance that is quite wonderful. Or not.  

Antony Byrne’s gritty Mark Antony, meanwhile, gives us something more rooted and familiar, not least in the occasional, accentual nod towards Yorkshire.

Robert Innes Hopkins' lush, ever dynamic set punctuates an uneven production which doesn’t always engage. And the famous asp scene is both intentionally and unintentionally funny. It isn’t Josette Simon’s fault that the toy snake she removes from the basket looks like a toy snake. But we are being invited to laugh, presumably, when she impatiently provokes the snake into biting her with a punch to the chest. 

Yes, even her dying moments are bemusing and nutty. Simon is always working her Cleopatra, but I’m not sure her Cleopatra always works. On this, I think, there will be a neat divide. To quote Puccini, “Let the audience decide”.

Catch Antony and Cleopatra now. Visit


1 Comment

  • Elaine Pinkus
    by Elaine Pinkus 1 year ago
    Hi, I am a complete luddite. Can you tell me how you inserted the youtube link? Thanks, Elaine.
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