"Antony & Cleopatra"

Caesar and his assassins are dead. General Mark Antony now rules alongside his fellow defenders of Rome. But at the fringes of a war-torn empire the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra and Mark Antony have fallen fiercely in love.

Ralph Fiennes (Antony) and Sophie Okonedo (Cleopatra) are, on stage, a delight for the five senses. An ingenious story about love and war, passion and reason, death and life.

What impressed me most about Fiennes is the tone of his sweetened voice and the energy of his performance. He is accompanied by Okonedo and she, just like him, is absolutely splendid with an orange hair that looks like the mane of a lion. Seeing Sophie as Cleopatra I remember something that critic James Agate said about one of Okonedo's predecessors, Edith Evans: "she clings to the dramatist's conception, absorbs it and then gives it back, recreating it in her own personality and enchanted imagination".

Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo in  Antony & Cleopatra . Image by Johan Persson

Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo in Antony & Cleopatra. Image by Johan Persson

Together they bring a fierce and passionate touch to this compelling story of the codependent, passionate and violent relationship between the Egyptian queen Cleopatra and the Roman emperor Mark Antony by William Shakespeare. Both are instantly fascinating.

All the other actors are, in fact, superb. I would highlight the magnificent Nicholas Le Prevost (as Lepidus), the great Pompey by Sargon Yelda although all are, it seems, on stage without effort. Tunji Kasim accurately captures the adoration and contempt of Caesar towards Antony.

A scene from  Antony & Cleopatra . Photo by Johan Persson

A scene from Antony & Cleopatra. Photo by Johan Persson

Although epicity of this history is still palpable in this production of three and a half hours, the director Simon Godwin takes an agile path through the plot and gives a nice contemporary turn to the history of the East with (or against) the West.

The sets by Hildegard Bechtler are incredible, they moves perfectly between the serenity of Cleopatra's spa and the modernity of Rome. One of my favorite scenario changes is when the spa submerges and a submarine emerges, in addition to an ancient Middle Eastern city for the final battle, of course. I highly recommend acquiring the official program, which is a very well written encyclopedia about the history and its characters.

Interpretations full of intellect, details and essence in one of the best adaptations of this classic.

Antony and Cleopatra is at the National Theatre until 19th January 2019 and will be broadcast live to cinemas by NT Live on 6th December.