A review by Leanne Robinson for EXTRA! EXTRA!



Antony and Cleopatra


Sarah-Jayne Butler (Cloepatra) and Philip Scott-Wallace (Antony)
Photo by Pepe Pryke


By William Shakespeare

Directed by David Pearce

Rose Theatre

9 March – 2 April 2011


A decadent honour indeed to find oneself sitting on a folding chair amongst the archaeological remains of one of London's most historic theatres; director David Pearce makes no apologies for "subjecting" his audience to the cavernous ruins in place of a plush proscenium arch. And why should he? The Rose Theatre's atmosphere of discovery, mystery and seclusion creates the feeling that you are soon to bear witness to an amazing secret, more so given the fact that the seats are minimal, (I counted just over thirty). Extending the magic and hinting to the enchantment of an Egyptian palace, historical items bejewel the tiny set, basic, yet utterly effective in establishing a sense of place.

So to the epic tragedy that is Antony and Cleopatra, written by William Shakespeare in the early 1600s - the play bombards us through the tumultuous relationship between the vivacious and sensual queen of Egypt, Cleopatra and her lover, Roman military commander Marcus Antonius, Mark Antony. Harking back to the Parthian War and guiding us through a geographical labyrinth from hedonistic Alexander to the exerting force of Rome, David Pearce's adaptation is particularly interesting, in so much as it lays focus upon the domestic attributes of the time, rather than the all out grandeur of an ancient civilisation, bloodied with cut-throat battles and seething with political intrigue.

The majority of the scenes take place indoors, often within Cleopatra's residence, while the turmoil takes place outside. For those of us more familiar with the gilded film spectacle staring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, this subtle telling of the famous story may seem somewhat lacking. However we are rewarded with a concise, easy to follow, pacey performance, which ebbs and flows and never falters in its telling of the tale. Being a mere hour and a half without interval, we have no time to tire or to lose interest. A young boy in the audience was riveted from start to finish, a credit to the wider appeal of the production.

Credit also to the sterling cast of eight, many of whom play several parts (some as many as nine) and attempt generally, with great success, to distinguish their characters. Deviations of accent and change of costume assist in achieving this, however, alterations are subtle - the assignment of a hat perhaps, or a coloured sash. The costumes are tasteful and relate well to the minimal set, capturing elements of Egypt to linger and intertwine with the modern day.

In keeping with the domesticity of the play are the delightful, very human relationships in the household. A stark contrast to the all encompassing and destructive passions between Antony and Cleopatra, Charmian, Cleopatra's impish lady in waiting, played by Emma Burn, displays a delightfully mischievous woman of the world, in the shadow of her mistress, yet ever watchful, who takes it upon herself to discover all of the gossip and scandal surrounding her queen, then conceal it from her, as would a loving sister. Cleopatra is played beautifully by Sara - Jayne Butler with pomp and vigour whilst teetering upon the brink of hysteria as a wronged woman in lust. Philip Scott-Wallace gives us an excellent Antony, arrogant and full of the charming, egotistical spirit of youth, however, Marco Violino especially shines as the Roman triumvirate Octavius Ceaser, commanding the stage with a quiet, simmering authority.

A compelling adaptation, certainly a must for those not so well acquainted with the play, as you will leave the theatre with a satisfactory glow of knowledge and understanding having watched a solid, well-performed production. For those already well versed there will be no revelation, obscure re-construction or shocking break down of boundaries, merely a brilliant play stripped to its' bare essentials, allowing the words to speak for themselves – no mean feat.

BOX OFFICE: 02072619565



Tickets £12/£10 concessions

Performance at 7.30pm – Sundays at 3.00pm

Please note that this is an archaeological site and is not heated. Wear warm, appropriate clothing.


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