Review: Antony and Cleopatra


by Mike Matthaiakis

This third production of Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra” on the Olivier stage stands as a terrific occasion, with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo delivering superb performances as the self-deluded lovers. Director Simon Godwin, known for his contemporary perspective and keen ear for Shakespeare’s language, once again exhibits his prowess in this production.

While reservations include the challenge of maintaining a swift cinematic rhythm in a play with 42 scenes and a runtime of three and a half hours, the production’s inventiveness shines. Hildegard Bechtler’s design effectively contrasts Egypt and Rome, emphasizing opulence and sunken pools in the former and a military war-room with modern technology in the latter. The use of a revolve, however, leads to some slowing of the action and potential viewer exhaustion by the play’s end.

Despite minor criticisms, the production is first-rate, and Godwin, along with the two stars, emphasizes the lovers’ state of intoxicated fantasy. Fiennes, portraying every aspect of Antony, captures the character’s tragic decline with magnificence, bringing depth and nuance to each phrase. Okonedo matches him with a portrayal of Cleopatra that beautifully balances ardor and irony, showcasing her quick-witted nature and fiery, mercurial presence.

The supporting cast also deserves commendation, with Tim McMullan as the tragic Enobarbus, Tunji Kasim as Octavius Caesar, and Katy Stephens justifying the gender-change of Agrippa by portraying her as Caesar’s crisply efficient lieutenant. Hannah Morrish movingly portrays the heartbreak of Octavia, even though the decision to bring her back as one of Caesar’s emissaries is questioned.

Overall, this production serves as a reminder of the death-haunted nature of Shakespeare’s play from the start, portraying self-glorifying lovers existing in a dream of passion. The fine performances, inventive design, and nuanced direction contribute to a compelling and memorable rendition of “Antony and Cleopatra.”

Antony and Cleopatra is at the Olivier.