Josette Simon and Antony Byrne.
Photo by Helen Maybanks

After the heated political tension of Julius Caesar, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Rome season continues with a foray into Egypt for Antony & Cleopatra. The mood here is, initially at least, much lighter than the previous visit to Mark Antony but there are still tensions in Rome!
Rather than Angus Jackson directing both plays simultaneously, the RSC have brought in Iqbal Khan to take the helm for this play and his vision is much less clear cut than Jackson’s. For start instead of contrasting louche, bohemian Egypt with upright Rome our first visit to the capital sees the male cast lounging about in a bath house, a small thing but typical of the lack of clear boundary between one world and another throughout the play.

Antony Byrne as Mark Antony.
Photo by Helen Maybanks

RSC stalwart Antony Byrne is reliably good in his namesake role, a weary soldier called upon to fight once more but who just wants to stay and be happy in the world he has carved out for himself. Though his Mark Antony is a little more on the nose than James Corrigan’s take in Julius Caesar it gives this production a stable base on which to build. His relationship with Andrew Woodall’s carousing Enobarbus is perhaps the truest in the entire piece.
Byrne’s rugged masculinity is a nice counterpoint to Ben Allen’s soft handed, schoolboy-esque Octavius. A leader prone to react like a toddler, much to the dismay of his followers (including Corrigan as Agrippa, perhaps the one soldier Antony trusts).
Unfortunately, despite a masterful, regal air Khan has directed Josette Simon’s Cleopatra as a manic, juvenile presence. Prone to putting on childish voices and with a constantly changing attitude there is no consistency to her until, as the play draws to a close she commits suicide. It’s a tragic waste of a wonderful actress whose, Eartha Kitt like purr and straight backed demeanour suggest she could have been so much more!
There’s nothing bad here at all and, in itself it is an enjoyable production, but set alongside the more perfunctory yet more potent Caesar it pales.

In Stratford until September 7th and then transferring to the Barbican. For more info visit https://www.rsc.org.uk/antony-and-cleopatra/