Antony and Cleopatra (first performed circa 1607) is one of Shakespeare’s most poetic plays, full of imagery of exotic Egypt with its crocodiles and serpents, its River Nile and, of course, Enobarbus’s extravagant speech describing Antony’s first sighting of its queen: ‘The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne/ Burned on the water ...’ It also has one of the strongest and most demanding parts for a woman to play: Cleopatra, with her emotional storms and teasing wit, ‘her infinite variety’ of moods.
Last year, Bell Shakespeare presented two brilliant productions – Richard 3 and The Merchant of Venice – building anticipation for its new season. Perhaps resting a little on his laurels, director Peter Evans has decided to give Antony and Cleopatra a similar treatment to Richard III, with a single contemporary set and actors in modern dress. There is no attempt to depict Alexandria or Rome, nor any suggestion of an ancient world. Instead, the audience is confronted with an oval stage area surrounded by two sets of transparent muslin curtains. We seem to be looking into one of those bland hotel function rooms where everything is grey or beige, with the odd pinkish highlight. A middle-aged couple embraces on a lounge chair, perhaps conducting one of those dismal hotel room affairs. They are Antony and Cleopatra. They speak of their love, and the curtains are drawn back so that the audience can see their faces and the colourless world they live in.