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THEATRE: Antony and Cleopatra/Liverpool Playhouse

Philip Key enjoys a first night with Kim Cattrall. Did it live up?

Published on October 18th 2010.

THEATRE: Antony and Cleopatra/Liverpool Playhouse

THEATRES must be grateful to William Shakespeare, a writer who has kept them in business for over 400 years now.

Directors love to play with him, actors want to perform his works and – best of all – audiences still keep going to see him.

It may not be the super-charged Cleopatra we fondly imagine but, as I said, one very much Ms Cattrall’s own

So it’s no surprise that the Liverpool Playhouse is staging Antony and Cleopatra, one of Will’s great tragedies and a supreme love story.

What maybe is surprising is that the theatre has assembled a great company to perform it: director Janet Suzman was one of the outstanding Cleopatras of her generation, Jeffery Kissoon one of our most prominent classical actors and Kim Cattrall one of Liverpool and international gossip magazines' favourite daughters.

No disrespect to others involved, it is Ms Cattrall’s appearance that makes this box office, a Liverpool-born actress who left as a baby and became a Hollywood star - a television icon playing Samantha Jones in the long-running cult series Sex and the City.

Although she has a good theatrical pedigree this was also her stage debut in the city of her birth so there was a lot riding on her. Could she pull it off? Well she could, but in her own particular style.

She opens proceedings with her back to the audience to the accompaniment of some loud music, turns to reveal she is wearing a golden mask and then removes that to observe Kissoon's snoring Antony sprawled beneath her.

With dark, bobbed hair and attired in a black-and-white number, she is soon working her flirtatious wiles on her lover, almost girly in her actions and attitudes.

Her Cleopatra has her dark moments but it is Cattrall's sense of humour and coquettishness that is most striking about the performance. This is not the exotic politician of myth but a woman with womanly attributes.

She gets five changes of costume throughout the drama but not the daring outfits sometimes selected, just fairly plain black or white full-length dresses. The little black dress never looked so apt.

Her character is strangely likeable but also manages those changes of personality that characterise Cleopatra as a sometimes unfathomable individual.

It may not be the super-charged Cleopatra we fondly imagine but, as I said, one very much Ms Cattrall’s own.

It fits in with what at times feels like a very clean production if one can say that about a play involving war and passion.

Peter McKintosh’s set looks like a modern warehouse conversion with huge brick walls, panelled glass and a sort of iron walkway. There is just the one set representing everywhere from Egypt to Rome, Actium to a ship. This can make for some confusion as everywhere naturally looks the same.

It is, anyway, a sort of fantasy land in which soldiers carry machine guns, Pompey is dressed like a terrorist with a huge sword and a feather in his hat, and the soothsayer is an Indian mystic.

Antony in full armour also looks like no warrior you have seen before. But what of Antony?

In Kissoon's performance he is big and dominating with a powerful voice and strong personality. Like Cattrall, his is not a one-note performance, however. He has his personal weaknesses and his death scene is poignant.

One of the more interesting characters among the supporting cast is Octavius Caesar as played by Martin Hutson, for much of the time in a pin-striped suit. As Antony’s foe, particularly after Antony has married and then abandoned his sister, Octavia, this Caesar comes across as a boardroom bully who knows what he wants and is determined to get it.

Octavia, incidentally, provides one of the puzzles of the production. She is played for no discernible reason by a male actor, Mark Sutherland. It is peculiar when all the other females are played by females and very well, too. Aicha Kossoko is particularly expressive as Cleopatra’s loyal attendant, Charmian, and Gracy Goldman is fine as the other attendant, Iras.

Ian Hogg, another classical actor, plays Antony’s chief lieutenant, Enobarbus, in a suitably vibrant fashion although his delivery of the great speech “the barge she sat in, like a burnished throne...” was disappointingly matter of fact.

Indeed, for a play that has so much verse in it, there was, as is the habit these days, little versifying.

What Ms Suzman seems to be doing with this production is to tell a story rather than a history, a story of confused love, ambition and war.

These are themes not confined to Ancient Egypt and Republican Rome so one assumes that is why the decision was made to set it in a sort of never-never land with just a touch of Egyptian and Roman influence.

It is an intriguing production rather than a triumphant one, but worthwhile all the same. As for Kim Cattrall, she can be content that she has made an impression in her birth city with a very different sort of Cleopatra, one that is as credible as any.


*Antony and Cleopatra is at the Liverpool Playhouse until November 13.

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7 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Bard OutOctober 15th 2010.

I have to say I thought Ms Cattrall's performance was very refreshing in a very heavy going play lasting nearly four hours.
The action was difficult to follow in places, but all together I felt it was a very energetic production which will no doubt transfer to the West End.

Unman WitteringOctober 15th 2010.

Really enjoyed this production - very strong. Martin Hutson in particular is very compelling as Octavius Caesar. Also, it's nowhere near 4 hours; starts at 7.00, curtain down at 10.10. Beware though the hordes of people who will no doubt arrive at 7.30 every night...

Infamy, InfamyOctober 15th 2010.

I felt it was very strong too, but it was a bit chaotic in places. KC was good, after a wobbly start and I thought the set design and sound and lighting was brilliant

sporusOctober 15th 2010.

Maybe they were still settling into the theatre space after weeks of drafty rehearsal room? Maybe Ms Cattrall was still getting her range. It was the first night preview I saw and she seemed a bit shouty, struggling to project. There didn't seem to be much physical chemistry fizzing between her and Kissoon either. Loved Hutson's Blair-alike Caesar. He had him down pat in manners and movements. There were several strong supporting performances, notably Cleo's two attendants. Not sure about dressing the Egyptian spear carriers as subfusc mujahadin, or about the cross-stage gantry and its two ladders. Its an odd play, with maybe too many comings and goings to integrate into seamless flow. Worth seeing however, judging by most reviews except the Daily Mail's.

lovvieOctober 15th 2010.

Took a while to work out what period it was set in, then realised it was periodless, what with Cleo removing her gold mask, then putting on her modern day glasses. I thought KC didn't project too well, and worry that she will have probs during the run. Didn't like Kissoon's portrail of Antony,downright bizzare at times and agree with all others that Caesar's portrail was first class. Again, as with others, didn't quite get why Octavia played by a guy. Really Liked the set. I didn't get the 'electrify fizz' that was supposed to be happening, but need to point out saw it from the gods, so do feel you lose the intimacy that you get from other levels (apologies for spelling-cldnt find me spell check)

AnonymousOctober 15th 2010.

I tell you what, she's bloody fit for 54!

younger-than-twiggy-anywayOctober 16th 2010.

Octavia was played by a guy for two reasons:
1. Historically all shakespeare plays were played by men - no female emancipation then
2. There was a brief physical inference of incest between Octavia and Caesar - maybe a bit of a modern take- the implication here was that Caesar married his sister off to someone who would not be interested in her, thus preserving her for himself.

Kim was great. Her accent suffered slightly at times, and her histrionics were a bit extreme towards the end. But , hey this is Shakespeare. If you analyse it, the plot is stupid and unbelievable. Anthony is told that this prone to dramatics woman has just killed herself in response to one of their many arguments. Without verifying the truth of the matter, he kills himself, and then she, without the regret of her stupidity, kills herself too - blaming it on other factors. The fact is that they had a very sexual relationship and argued a lot.

This wasn't a play to loss even a moment's concentration in, which I did. My seats were very uncomfortable!

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