Age can­not wither

John Nathan on a pow­er­fully psy­cho­log­i­cal Antony and Cleopa­tra and a claus­tro­pho­bic pro­duc­tion of a Hen­rik Ib­sen clas­sic

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS -

Antony and Cleopa­tra Novello, Lon­don WC2

In Gre­gory Doran’s ter­rific RSC pro­duc­tion, Pa­trick Ste­wart’s Antony is ev­ery inch the Ro­man pa­tri­cian who flailed and hacked his way to vic­tory. But what fas­ci­nates about Antony is not his strength but his weak­ness — for women in gen­eral and Cleopa­tra in par­tic­u­lar, played by a mer­cu­rial Harriet Wal­ter.

Wal­ter’s volatile queen of Egypt need only feign a lit­tle sor­row or pucker up with doe-eyed vul­ner­a­bil­ity for the iron-will of Rome’s great­est gen­eral to melt like soft but­ter.

What fas­ci­nates about Cleopa­tra is her per­ma­nent state of self-in­dul­gence — with ev­ery whim acted upon with­out a care of the con­se­quences. In Wal­ter’s ver­sion, the flip side of this ado­les­cent con­di­tion is that Cleopa­tra is all too aware of her ma­tu­rity. And tired of her pos­tur­ing, Wal­ter’s monarch tem­per­a­men­tally throws down her wig, re­veal­ing cropped hair.

Cru­cially, Ste­wart’s Antony and Wal­ter’s Cleopa­tra seem per­fect for each other. They are two tow­er­ing but mu­tu­ally de­struc­tive egos. And when Ste­wart’s Antony hears that Cleopa­tra is alive, hav­ing just im­paled him­self on his own sword at the false news that she is dead, he laughs in rue­ful recog­ni­tion of the in­evitable.

The two cen­tral per­for­mances are su­perbly sup­ported by Ken Bones’s watch­ful Eno­bar­bus, Peter de Jer­sey’s pow­er­ful Pom­peius and, in par­tic­u­lar, John Hop­kins’s high­lystrung Cae­sar, who steals most scenes in which he is present.

Stephen Brim­son Lewis’s de­sign echoes the geo-po­lit­i­cal stakes by plac­ing the ac­tion against the back­ground of a map of the known world. (Tel: 020 7437 4370) Ghosts The Gate, Lon­don W11

Like Chekhov and O’Neill, Ib­sen was all too aware of how so­ci­ety’s con­ven­tions trap lives. Re­flect­ing this, Lez Brother­ston’s de­sign re­duces The Gate’s tiny stage still fur­ther by set­ting Ib­sen’s claus­tro­pho­bic drama in a cell-sized re­volv­ing wooden room.

The au­thor’s tar­get was the re­pres­sive con­ven­tions of his day, which viewed lov­ing and love­less mar­riages as equally sacro­sanct, women as sec­ond-class cit­i­zens and male author­ity as paramount.

This last is em­bod­ied by Fin­bar Lynch’s proudly ig­no­rant Pas­tor Man­ders who views books as pol­lu­tants of the mind. He is the guest of widow Mrs Alv­ing (Ni­amh Cu­sack) whose ill painter son Os­vald (Chris­tian Coul­son) has re­turned home to live and, it emerges, die.

Where the pol­i­tics ou­traged nine­teenth cen­tury au­di­ences, it is the peel­ing back of fam­ily se­crets that grips their mod­ern coun­ter­parts.

Anna Mack­min’s un­in­ter­rupted 90-minute pro­duc­tion is pro­pelled at break­neck speed by Amelia Bull­more’s con­densed ver­sion of the play. If there is a down side to Bull­more’s slash­ing the drama’s longueurs and speeches, it is that the char­ac­ters are de­nied the space to ab­sorb events. But the ex­cel­lent cast, led by a su­perb Cu­sack, cope well with the un­seemly haste. Sarah Smart’s breath­less maid Regine and Paul Copley as her abu­sive fa­ther Es­trand also de­serve a men­tion. (Tel: 020 7229 0706) Gertrude’s Se­cret New End, Lon­don NW3

Im­ported from the King’s Head, the New End has breathed new life into Benedick West’s se­ries of 10 short mono­logues.

West’s char­ac­ters each have their own tragedy to tell. We kick off with ro­man­tic Mau­reen’s love for Derek, which emerges as a stalker’s ob­ses­sion; a de­pres­sive wor­ries about botch­ing his sui­cide; a gos­sipy cleaner is a mod­ern Mrs Malaprop.

West’s char­ac­ters are writ­ten and, un­der Andrew Loudon’s di­rec­tion, acted well enough to avoid car­i­ca­ture — but only just.

And by the time you get to Prunella Scales’s lonely, meek Gertrude of the ti­tle, the pro­duc­tion’s lim­ited virtue — that of a mere show­case for ac­tors — is well es­tab­lished. (Tel: 0870 033 2733 )

Pa­trick Ste­wart and Harriet Wal­ter in Antony and Cleopa­traat the Novello

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