Antony and Cleopatra (1997): Bridewell Theatre Company, Bridewell Theatre, London
PrAntony and Cleopatra (1997)
PRINCIPAL CAST: Alphonsia Emmanuel (Cleopatra); Angus Hubbard (Octavius Caesar); Jonathan Oliver (Mark Antony); Clive Paget (Enobarbus).
This production ran from 10 April - 3 May 1997.
"You feel Alphonsia Emmanuel ought to be giving her Cleopatra on stage at the Barbican, accompanied by trumpets and profiles in the national press. But the RSC has quit town for the summer and, besides, they never invited her. So the beautiful and charismatic star of Peter's Friends and too many TV shows to mention took up an invitation from Carol Metcalfe, director of the Bridewell Theatre, near Ludgate Circus, to go and be imperious in the small but perfectly formed City venue....[Metcalfe] has also set it in the 1940s in the further interests of accessibility. 'It's about an imperialist power expanding its territory, so there are parallels with what fascists were doing at the end of the 1930s, their incursions into north Africa.'...Didn't we all expect [Emmanuel] to hit the big time after leading roles in [David Hare's] Murmuring Judges and Branagh's film Peter's Friends? 'It was very trendy to be ethnic in the Eighties and I rode the crest of that wave. Then when the business hit a bad turn I began to have a tough time like a lot of other actors. The last two years have been very tough indeed.'" ~ "Curtains Up", Midweek, 16 April 1997
"In complete contrast Alphonsia is now preparing to open in Anthony and Cleopatra [sic] at London's tiny Bridewell Theatre, a far cry from Hollywood's movie machine. 'Like Hamlet, Cleopatra is a wonderful part to get your teeth into and see how far you can go' she explains, 'and nobody was offering me it at the RSC so I thought, yeah why not have a go'. Having never seen Anthony and Cleopatra [sic] and with only vague memories of the play from her A-level studies, Alphonsia has found the character quite a challenge, 'particularly her anger and passion', which she admits to not naturally displaying." ~ Matthew A. James, "Peter's Friend", Lowdown, 11 April 1997
"The director Carol Metcalfe has chosen to set the play in a notional second world war setting which casts Mark Antony as a desert rat in khaki breeches. As is often the case when Shakespeare is set in a particular period this device poses more problems than it solves. Is Octavius Caesar Hitler and are we really meant to have Rommel as a hero? The set, however, is very much in harmony with the play. Its motifs of interacting triangles and pyramids not only provide a gorgeous setting but also echo the metaphorical triangles of the plot: the triumvirate of Caesar, Antony and Lepidus and the shifting love triangles of the many protagonists. The lighting too, is excellent with the tawny oranges, aquamarines, golds and vivid pinks complementing the moods and colours of the set. The scale and complexity of the plot is never less than clear, even though the 43 characters in the play are played by a cast of only eight. At times the period setting pays off....Guy Burgess's rough and ready Mussolini-like Pompey and his louche Cairo-bazaar Alexas also work well....Alphonsia Emmanuel as Cleopatra was both gorgeous to look at as well as to listen to. Although at times she was more Helen of Troy than Elizabeth I, she grew in majesty in her final scenes. Despite minor quibbles about the interpretation and the setting, the Bridewell Theatre Company must be commended for the clarity and colour of its staging of this huge and challenging text." ~ Sam Albasini, "A passionate downfall", Financial Times, 15 April 1997
"A small water pool shimmers, reminding the audience of the Bridewell's former incarnation as a bath house and serving as a neat symbol of the sensuality and pleasure which hold sway in Egypt under Mark Antony and Cleopatra's rule. Alphonsia Emmanuel's commanding Cleopatra frolics in the water, swathed in fabric which leaves her back and shoulders bare, quite in contrast to the stiff 1940s-style army fatigues of the Romans. The world suggested by Carol Metcalfe's production and Bridget Kimak's design is strangely reminiscent of an early Hollywood musical, with its blocks of set which do not pretend to be anything else, its lavish lighting by Geoff Spain and the dramatic music, mostly by Erich Wolfgana Korngold, who fled Nazi Austria and made his name composing film music in America. In contrast, Emmanuel's performance is for real. She seizes the opportunity afforded by Shakespeare's wonderfully rich characterisation and elegantly combines regality and playfulness, political wit and emotional vulnerability, eroticism and intellect. Even in jealous outbursts or moments of immoderate rage, she maintains a crucial edge of self-knowledge and carries it off without ever appearing petty, weak or mean-spirited. Jonathan Oliver's Mark Antony must work hard to keep pace with this performance, but he succeeds....The rest of the cast is less assured, with the exception of Guy Burgess, whose Alexas is a fascinatingly suave and snake-like creature in fez and immaculate linen suit, a fusion of all the political guile of both East and West. He is most at ease in bare feet but is never seen without a dandyish cigarette holder at his lips. His Pompey is another brilliantly assured creation, looking like a young Yassir Arafat in Western fatigues talking on an army telephone, a man of action whose humanity shines in contrast to Octavius Caesar's cold-hearted scheming." ~ Clare Bayley, "Royal fling, movie-style", The Times, 15 April 1997
"Oliver is much the best actor in this staging, which Metcalfe has set in 1942. Neither he nor his Cleopatra (Alphonsia Emmanuel) are in the first or even second flush of youth but - for a play that focuses, with more than a touch of satire, on middle-aged love - you need actors who look like veterans of venery and quite a bit more battered by time and experience than this pair. There's not enough abandonment or embarrassing extravagance here in their expressions of love. We are treated to one arousing moment when Oliver worshippingly adjusts the tie, belt and trousers of the male khaki uniform his lover has donned, but for the most part you miss the sense of exhibitionist amorous display. Beautiful, long-limbed and capable at times of ringingly eloquent verse delivery, Ms Emmanuel is a striking Cleopatra, but not a fascinating, witty or tantalising one." ~ Paul Taylor, "A world well lost", The Independent, 12 April 1997