Mythos, Mystery and Grandeur: A Look at Antony and Cleopatra (for Parterre Box)

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Sophie Okonedo and Ralph Fiennes in Antony and Cleopatra

CK: To date, David, our ongoing critical series has largely focused on historical records of classic plays, often featuring the great actors of the twentieth century. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a glut of worthwhile contemporary content to consider. NT Live, the HD transmission arm of Britain’s National Theatre, has been streaming one production a week from its extensive catalog ever since the West End shuttered its theaters in mid-March. Productions become available on Thursday afternoons here on the East Coast and remain on YouTube for seven days. So far, the offerings have included James Corden in One Man, Two Guvnors, a swinging-sixties spin on The Servant of Two Masters; a deadly earnest Jane Eyreadaptation; and a Danny Boyle-directed take on Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternating roles. The production that interests me most, though, is a 2018 Antony & Cleopatra starring Ralph Fiennesand Sophie Okenedo as the warring lovers. What can I say? I’m a Shakespeare queen.

David Fox: I was delighted to learn that Simon Godwin’s lavishly-praised A&C (as we’ll call it for brevity’s sake) had been added to the streaming line-up, since I missed it both in the theater and via its HD-cast. Yet from the very first moments, it had the odd sense of déjà vu, which deepened as the show went on. The realization was undeniable that this production, though not credited, very strongly resembled one mounted last season by a formidable local company. I won’t name them here, but find the similarities problematic, to say the least. I reviewed that production, as I know you did, too, Cameron—and I also noticed from a tweet you sent that you too saw connections between it and the NT version we’re discussing here. Of course, this one has a level of resources—budget, as well as the kind of star-actors—that no local company in our area could equal. Yet for me, the problems I noted in our local production are similar to those I see here: notably, an overemphasis of the comic elements, and that by transposing the action to a contemporary milieu, we lose a lot of A&C’s mythos, mystery, and grandeur…

Read the full post at Parterre Box.

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