"Historical drama in a nutshell"
by Marco Marrese for remotegoat on 13/03/11

Any evening at the Rose Theatre (close to the Shakespeare Globe), is going to be a special one for both accustomed devotees and for the newcomer. It is not only about a performance, but about the site itself and the hospitable atmosphere.
As one gets to the location, one might wonder about the relative gloominess of the backstreet, but the mood changes immediately as one enters and is warmly received by the volunteers whose passion sustains the Rose. This is a very important site in the history of theatre and everyone will appreciate the very informative introduction we are given by David Pearce, director of this performance, before its start.

The stage area of the Rose is very small and it is right in front of the archaeological vestiges of the Shakespearean theatre. David Pierce choice of Antony and Cleopatra for such a unique space is very brave and he is aware of the tough challenge he has taken on. In fact, this is a play that would be tough everywhere and for a much wealthier company as well, as the script includes many characters, many locations and we are used to the rich costumes of cinemas. But Pierce deliberately tries to cut through such difficulties by refocusing the viewer on the key characters with their magnitude and ambivalence.
Sadly, this works out only to a certain extent because of the almost complete absence of a set and the fact that a few actors perform so many roles that we are sometimes lost and unable to make sense of their appearances despite the effort to use costumes to help the viewer. He should have gone farther along this road.
The main characters are unaffected by this, though.

Sara-Jayne Butler gives a convincing performance as Cleopatra, one of the toughest female roles ever. She jumps from an excess to the other with ease, from joy and tenderness to fury and cynicism, and is entirely credible as a manipulative, but not always self-restrained, lover and power-thirsty woman. Philip Scott-Wallace performance as Antony improves over the course of the play and up to his final speech, as he praises Eros' nobility and he commits suicide, but it would gain from being less theatrical and less shouted. Marco Violino is a proud Octavianus while Emma Burn (as Cleopatra's servant Charmian) and William Donaldson (as an Egyptian servant, among his many roles) act out a very enjoyable gag on Cleopatra. In fact, William Donaldson general performance is noteworthy, as he succeeds in differentiating among, and giving depth to, many of the roles he takes on.

Unfortunately, this was always going to be a very difficult play to stage at the Rose and the result illustrates the constraints the director was subject to. But it remains a play Shakespeare's fanatics should attend (let's add that it is performed with precise diction) as should anyone who likes theatre, because the courage of the company and the location deserve it.

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