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OTG's production of Antony and Cleopatra in Trinity College Gardens was staged in Trinity College Gardens, 14-27 July 2010. Here’s what the Oxford Times, Daily Information, and What's On Stage had to say.
picture from the performance

They do like a man in uniform...
(picture: Felicity Peacock)

A gallery of pictures from the production is available to view.

OXFORD TIMES - Giles Woodforde

With its story of political deals and betrayals, Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra certainly has a contemporary ring to it – emphasised in this Oxford Theatre Guild production by dressing Octavius Caesar (Craig Finlay) in a double-breasted suit, and making him every inch a slimy politician. It doesn't require too much imagination to guess which present-day politician Octavius's character might be modelled on.
 Director Alistair Nunn has skilfully spliced this contemporary relevance into Britain's colonial past by setting the play somewhere in the 1920s or 30s. With Britain taking the place of Ancient Rome as the world's dominant colonial power, Nunn thus contrasts British chaps in suits and military uniforms against the exotic clothes and atmosphere of Cleopatra's Egypt. This makes clear the crucial difference between Antony and Cleopatra's backgrounds – he is a professional soldier from an undistinguished family.

Right from the start it's apparent that Antony isn't interested in anything or anybody except Cleopatra: he publicly slobbers over her. He may have risen to become one of the world's most powerful men but he cannot even remember to do his tunic up, or straighten his belt. No wonder his general, Canidius (Colin Macnee), and even his faithful servant Eros (a heartfelt portrayal from Joshua Hall) are worried. Meanwhile his friend Enobarbus (magisterial Colin Burnie) gossips about Cleopatra's glamour in a comparatively restrained way.

One of the strengths of Tim Younger's fine performance is that his Antony does pull himself together, yet Cleopatra's influence over him remains very obvious. You also get a tingling feeling of an impetuous man out of his depth, for instance when he deals with Octavius and oily Lepidus (Ralph Hughes Watson), and his consequent agreement to marry Octavius's sister, Octavia (Cate Field), who comes over as a rather quiet, compliant character.

Of course, Cleopatra is outraged when she hears about Antony's marriage, it's the only time she really loses her rag. The sudden change of mood is telling – up until this point Helen Taylor has presented Cleopatra as a quietly spoken, regal lady, who usually expresses herself with a range of smiles, sometimes loving, sometimes crocodilean. Like the rest of the cast, she expertly resists the temptation to overegg the death scenes that crowd in towards the end of the play.

Director Nunn and the Theatre Guild should be proud of this production: the text (judiciously shortened) is delivered with real understanding, and well-observed body language. Above all, this is an excellent piece of storytelling.


DAILY INFORMATION - unattributed

The Oxford Theatre Guild’s version of Anthony and Cleopatra was a well paced, accessible and charming version of the play. Several cuts have been made from the original, with some subplots removed entirely, but this has been very well done and works to the production’s advantage. The role of soothsayer has been extended, which I also feel was a very good decision. The soothsayer, played brilliantly by Fleur Putt, seems to hover over the play, lending a nicely creepy touch to even seemingly innocuous action.

There was a nice counterpoint throughout of the Egyptian and Roman manners, which was complemented by the decision to change the setting to early 20th century Britain. The military infighting worked especially well in this context, and Craig Finlay’s Caesar was deliciously Cameronian at times, adding an interesting dimension of reflection on Britain’s current political behaviour.

The cast performed with utter conviction and there were some beautiful performances among them, without damaging the power of the ensemble. Colin Burnie was a wonderful Enobarbarus, throbbing with dignity and ultimately incredibly moving. I also especially enjoyed Sinead Carroll as Charmain, who, along with Nell Adams as Iras, provided a strong enough sense of the Egyptian court to balance the larger military element of the play. Their affection for their leader and each other were tenderly played and lovely to watch. I did however feel that Helen Taylor’s Cleopatra could have been a more commanding presence on stage.

While the setting of Trinity Gardens was undeniably beautiful, I would have preferred a simpler set and would wonder if there were more appropriate outdoor settings for the story; the backdrop of trees was very pretty, but as all of the play takes place in various courts, it might have been nice to see it in a courtyard or similar. This is a small point however; it was very pleasant to sit out, and the effect of the sky getting darker, mirroring the fall of Mark Anthony’s fortunes on stage, was lovely. There was apparently an indoor venue available in case of rain, so don’t let this week’s slightly dodgy weather forecast put you off.

Overall, this is a lovely example of outdoor Shakespeare in Oxford.


WHAT"S ON STAGE - Simon Tavener

I have to admit that Antony and Cleopatra is one of my least favourite Shakespeare plays. For me, the action is too disjointed and the characters are less easy to engage with than in many of the other works. This year, however, has turned into the year of A&C and I have now reviewed two productions in the space of 3 months!

Central to the production is Helen Taylor’s regal performance of Cleopatra. She finds the warmth and wit of the character but never lets us forget that she is a Queen. There is a clarity to her acting which lights up the stage. Tim Younger gives able support as a very robust Antony – though perhaps their passion needs a little more fire to fully take flight.

Of the supporting cast, Enorbarbus has the best lines and Colin Burnie makes good use of them. Along with the leading pair, he makes every word count in the garden setting – something that many of the less experienced cast members would be well advised to work on.

The direction and design work well to ensure that we are always aware of the identities and allegiances of the various characters. The cutting and combining of roles is, on the whole, handled well – simplifying and clarifying the action without dumbing down.

There are performance and minor technical niggles which, being opening night (after some heavy rain), one can forgive. The production does have the option of an indoor venue should the current changeable conditions persist. However it has been designed to work best in the open air and I hope audiences get to experience the full effect.

I do not think that either of the productions I have seen this year have persuaded me to love the text but I do have to say that Oxford Theatre Guild make a more cogent case for the play than the RSC did.



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