I had a week to spend in Brighton. When my son said, “ I’ve booked for us to go to Shakespeare’s Globe to see Anthony & Cleopatra, and I am paying!” I glowed and jumped at the chance. Being equally generous in spirit I said, “I’ll pay for us to see Hamlet at the Royal Exchange”, (more about that in October…). But there is always a catch isn’t there… what did someone say about ‘a free lunch’?
We chose Sunday 10 August, the day hurricane Bertha hit the south of England. Our tickets, I learned, cost only £5 each because we were standing with the groundlings in the open air… standing for three hours on a concrete floor… in the middle of a tempest… talk about suffering for one’s art…
John Munby’s production was terrific; terrific because it was able to make clear the complex politics between Egypt and Rome and within Rome itself. But any success for this play depends on the quality of the actors playing Anthony and Cleopatra and the chemistry between them.
Eve Best (you may have been following her in The Honorable Woman) as Cleopatra, worked the audience beautifully. Here is an actor who understands the art of engagement, who understands completely the opportunities offered by this special theatre space that is the Globe. She dominates and energises it. The groundlings lean on the edge of the stage close enough to touch the actors. At one point early in the play, at the height of Cleopatra’s playful sexuality, she strokes the hair, the cheeks of a groundling on the edge of the stage and then kisses him on the lips! Oh that it could have been me…! At the end as she prepares for death in defeat, kneeling at the end of the stage, a groundling offers her hand which Eve takes in both hers and kisses it… the shared silence in the auditorium was so thick you could touch it as we held back our tears. She possesses real powers of enchantment.
Clive Wood’s Anthony presents a strong on-stage physical presence. He is an ageing, hardened, hard drinking soldier seduced by the sensuality of Alexandria and Cleopatra. His portrayal underlines the differences between Rome and Egypt.
Do you know the feeling during a long production as you ease from one cheek to the other in your seat, or in this case from one foot to the other…? Well I didn’t realise my feet were aching until we were heading off towards the tube. And as for Hurricane Bertha, it poured down and yet I was still hot, sweaty, mesmerised on the banks of the Nile!
Editor: Look out for Part Two, coming very soon!