After playing the role herself in 1974 for the RSC, Janet Suzman returns to Antony and Cleopatra but this time as its director and has pulled off one of the canniest casting coups of the year in persuading Kim Cattrall to return to the city of her birth to head up the cast alongside Jeffery Kissoon at the Liverpool Playhouse. The ultimate tale of the trouble caused when the personal and the political are so inextricably entwined as Cleopatra and Mark Antony tumble into a passionate affair regardless of the fact that their infatuation threatens to destroy the world around them.
Feisty yet graceful, powerful yet passionate, Cattrall’s portrayal is simply superb. A highly intelligent woman, one can see the calculations behind her eyes as she weighs up each decision that will affect her so hugely but she also plays the comedy well and her touching vulnerability when seized by thoughts of love is beautiful: the recollection of their salad days is exceptional. Kissoon’s Antony is clearly a relic of a passing age, moody and tinged with madness from the outset. His battles come from his uncertainty at his place in this world as much as they do from his doomed affair and so he is a more shambolic leader.
Together they don’t quite radiate the sexual chemistry that one might have expected from these historic lovers but I rather liked this interpretation where it is evident that Cleopatra is more in love with the idea of being in love with Antony and how the reality doesn’t always match up to the fantasy. Indeed Cattrall’s performance is never finer than the end, when irrevocably separated from her lover, she chooses oblivion over servitude to Caesar.
Ian Hogg’s Enobarbus is a marvellous piece of work, a subtle and gentle but masterful performance which is just riveting, almost scene-stealingly good; equally outstanding for me was Martin Jutson’s jittery Caesar who has the instantly recognisable slippery demeanour of a modern politician and bringing with it a greater sense of comedy to the role than I ever recall seeing. I also enjoyed Aïcha Kossoko and Gracy Goldman as a gracefully comic Charmian and Iris but the decision to cast Mark Sutherland as Octavia, whilst a movingly portrayed interpretation, did jar a little though as a decision which felt unconnected to the vision of the production as a whole.
Peter McKintosh’s set works well in its sparseness and simplicity, a modern glass and red brick set with metal bridge is dressed with practical modernity for Rome and a gorgeous opulence of silver lanterns and fabrics making an effective switch to the Egyptian scenes, costumes are modern-classical, couture gowns, pinstripe suits and military uniforms and Peter Pyant’s lighting enhances everything with some truly excellent work.
So a stunningly accomplished production of this play which really does provide a different slant on proceedings, which whilst it may take its time to establish itself, is perfectly valid and really comes into its own in a dazzling second half in which Cattrall truly does prove herself as a consistently fine actress, capable of delivering beautifully nuanced performances whether it is mastering Shakespeare’s verse or wowing with her Coward. Only a week left to catch her though!