Antony and Cleopatra

William Shakespeare
Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
(2005)

Braham Murray, one of the Exchange's artistic directors, said at the launch of the current season that he has wanted to direct Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra for a long time but has been waiting for the right actors to play the title roles. He believes he has found the perfect partnership to play Shakespeare's tormented lovers in Tom Mannion and Josette Bushell-Mingo.

This production strongly emphasises the play's distinction between the two very different worlds of Egypt and Rome. The Roman scenes use marble and chrome scenery and props, plain grey uniforms, cold lighting and formal exchanges of information to put across the clinical, businesslike nature of Shakespeare's Rome. Egypt, on the other land, is filled with golds and reds, is lit warmly and has characters who speak and act with great passion and humour. Johanna Bryant's design and Vince Herbert's lighting contribute a lot towards this visual symbolism, but the style is carried through into the acting. Murray's pacy production moves swiftly and smoothly from one scene to the next, although the contrasting pace between the Roman and Egyptian scenes sometimes makes the Roman scenes seem a little slow. Some scenes are linked together with some physical theatre interludes such as the ship battle which are not strictly necessary to carry the story but create a strong visual impression.

There are some very good performances from the actors. Bushell-Mingo dominates the stage whenever she appears. The intensity of the passion she gives to the role is sometimes moving and sometimes dangerous when it makes her fiery and unpredictable, but she also finds the humour in the role - and there is plenty of it - which she puts across with great warmth and skill. Mannion seems a little laid-back, even off-hand, as Antony in the first half, but he has a few passionate scenes after the interval that he certainly makes the most of. Terence Wilton is excellent as Enobarbus, putting across effectively the comedy of his earlier scenes and the character's torment later on as he switches his allegiance. Sarah Paul is also very good as Charmian, Cleopatra's confidante and often her guide.

This is a fascinating production of Shakespeare's play with a strong cast and some powerful visual imagery.

"Antony and Cleopatra" runs until 9 April 2005

Reviewer: David Chadderton