Antony and Cleopatra (2016/17)
Directed by Damien Ryan and Terry Karabelas
Written by William Shakespeare
December 17, 2016 to January 29, 2017
Cleopatra and Antony live and die for a dare. How much can you love me? How far dare you go?
“I’ll set a limit how far to be beloved” – Cleopatra
Their first words in this play set each other a test, a challenge to define the limits of love, the possibilities of desire and co-dependency.
Shakespeare, near the end of a career of built on epic love stories, sets himself the same test – can he write a dramatic love poem so rich as to convince us that the whole world is worth losing for love? That two people can have it all and lose the lot in the name of devotion.
In their astonishing poetry, Antony and Cleopatra melt together to form a shared identity, the Tiber and the Nile flowing together in their blood. When they break apart, and this play rips them apart at every turn, they are no longer able to sustain their physical shape – they become “indistinct, like water is in water”. This is Romeo and Juliet for a broken, middle-aged, power-stained and life-wearied couple, with half the known world at their fingertips and an impossible dream on their lips.
Sport for Jove’s acclaimed Summer Shakespeare Season, now in it’s 8th successful year, has become a must-see on the NSW theatrical calendar. This year we go on a Roman Holiday – with two of Shakespeare's greatest plays - the epic tale of Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. Julius Caesar’s streamlined political drama explodes into a gigantic sprawling geo-political struggle for control between the world’s wealthiest western power and the endlessly alluring middle east, a clash of cultures and philosophies of living writ large, but made deeply intimate by Shakespeare’s portrait of two vulnerable souls addicted to each other and their dreadful fate.
The dramatic flesh and blood of this play come from the bones of a very real and remarkable story. A 53-year-old man, a once legendary soldier now dependent on alcohol and self-gratification, with a mandate over the world lying to the east of Rome, is in a proud struggle against a ruthless and clever 23-year-old political animal, a “bright child” who controls Rome itself and the empire to the west. Between them is the key character in the tapestry – a 39-year-old Egyptian queen, of the Ptolemy dynasty, who has ruled her nation, one of the richest on earth, as a proactive, impulsive and remarkably capable monarch since she was a child. Unlike his source material, Shakespeare makes this woman the centre of his story.
Against a grand political backdrop is the tale of a strange relationship, one that has fascinated the human race for thousands of years. In Shakespeare’s play, Cleopatra and Antony live and die for a dare. How much can you love me? How far dare you go?
“I’ll set a limit how far to be beloved” – says Cleopatra
Their first words in this play set each other a test, a challenge to define the limits of love, the possibilities of desire and co-dependency. At every point, Cleopatra will reach higher and ask him to follow, until she is left to determine her own fate once he is gone.
In their astonishing poetry, Antony and Cleopatra melt together to form a shared identity, the Tiber and the Nile flowing together in their blood. Three times in the first act, Shakespeare even references their cross-dressing in each other’s clothes, not purely out of sexual playfulness, but out of a need to fuse identities, to ever-deepen their share of each other. When they break apart, and this play rips them apart at every turn, they believe they take each other with them – “our separation so abides and flies that thou remaining here goes yet with me, and I hence fleeting, do here remain with thee”, says Antony. At every turn, their imagery is of melting, dissolving, becoming liquid. When they are finally brought asunder, they are no longer able to sustain their physical shape – they become “indistinct, like water is in water”. This is Romeo and Juliet for a broken, middle-aged, power-stained and life-wearied couple, with half the known world at their fingertips and an impossible dream on their lips. A dream of great power and responsibility that they can both sustain and let melt whenever they wish.
The other great metaphor he uses to define the play is that of the war to end all wars, that between Venus and Mars, the goddess of love and the god of war – the oppositions between female and male, and between desire and duty, the bed and the battlefield, the private and the public sphere. “Nay, but this dotage of our general’s oer-flows the measure” are the first words of the play. It may seem purely a story of folly, but on another level, there is a transcendent ambition in it – Antony says in this same first scene that “kingdoms are clay” and “the nobleness of life is to do thus”, to love, to live in happiness, to rise peerlessly above the squalid mud of tribal politics.
Rome in the play is a place of measure and restraint, Egypt has no limits, its capacity, like Cleopatra, is infinite.
Like Julius Caesar, the play is meta-theatrical, these two are conscious of the nature of performance, indeed, they are never once alone together in the entire play, every word they speak, no matter how intimate, has an onstage audience and they speak repeatedly of their situation in theatrical terms – including of course Cleopatra’s very famous reference to a future that would come true – a clever dramatic irony from Shakespeare:
“…the quick comedians
Extemporally wll stage us and present
Our Alexandrian revels: Antony
Will be brought drunken forth, and I shall see
Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness
I’th’posture of a whore.”
The only inaccuracy being that whatever ‘boy’ Shakespeare had at his disposal to play a part like Cleopatra was clearly capable of much more than a whore and Shakespeare wrote an extraordinary role for him to play. But the point stands, how does a boy or a man, bring to Cleopatra what a woman can? One can almost feel Shakespeare’s own frustrations with the casting conventions of his day. He is writing “a lass unparalleled”.
"This is what audiences love to see, the live magic pitched against a stunning outdoor backdrop."
Emily Richardson | Upstaged Reviews
Photography by Marnya Rothe
Amy Kersey | The Messenger
Berynn Schwerdt | Domitius Enobarbus, a Roman soldier in Egypt
Bryce Youngman | Alexas, treasurer of Egypt/Thydias, a Roman
Camilla Ah Kin | Cleopatra
Christopher Stollery | Marcus Antonius
Felicity McKay | Octavius Caesar, member of the Roman Triumvirate, later Emperor Augustus
Georgia Scott | Octavia, sister to Caesar/Soldier
Giles Gartrell-Mills | Mardian, an Egyptian eunich/Agrippa, a Roman military leader
Megan Drury | Proculeia, a Roman senator
Oliver Burton | Eros, a follower of Antony
Rupert Reid | Dolabella, a Roman/Ventidius, commander of Antony’s armies in Egypt
Suzanne Pereira | Charmian, attendant to Cleopatra
Teresa Jakovich | Iras, attendant to Cleopatra
Tony Taylor | Lepidus, member of the Roman Triumvirate,
Angelika Nieweglowski | Design Assistant
Bryce Halliday | Sound Designer
Damien Ryan | Director
Emma Paterson | Assistant Stage Manager
Georgia Hopkins | Designer
Jeremy Page | Technical Manager
Martin Kinnane | Lighting Designer
Paisley Williams | Stage Manager
Scott Witt | Fight/Movement