Antony and Cleopatra

A Review


Sophie Okonedo as Cleopara

If you ever get a chance to see a production of National Theatre Live you should. The next best thing to live theatre is live telecast theatre. The play Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare is my fourth foray into this domain and it didn’t disappoint. Watching fine British actors like Ralph Fiennes who plays Mark Antony, and Sophie Okonedo  who plays Cleopatra, is a delightful pleasure like none other.

Harold Bloom, writing in his masterful work, Shakespeare – The Invention of the Human, says, “Of Shakespeare’s representation of women, Cleopatra is the most subtle and formidable.” And I would say Sophie Okenedo’s portrayal of her is by far the most superb interpretation of this magnificent creature. She is by turns moody, funny, bitchy, sexy, powerful, and above all regal. Ralph Fiennes holds his own with her as the Roman General who is in decline. Antony, like empires, is a study in decline and fall. The very hairs on his head rebel against the aging warrior. “My very hairs do mutiny; for the white reprove the brown for rashness, and they them for fear and doting.” You will see in him, one of the triple pillars of the world, transformed into a strumpet’s fool.

Ralph Fiennes

Ralph Fiennes as Mark Antony

In an interview Ralph Fiennes says of the pair, “He’s not an idealized warrior and she’s not an idealized princess. They’re full of temperament and tantrums and mood swings, and I think that combination is very moving to people.” Are Antony and Cleopatra in love? Well they certainly appeared to me to be in love. They certainly were not bored with each other.

Director Simon Godwin kept the action moving in this modern dress rendition of Shakespeare’s tragedy. Costume designer Evie Gurney created designs for Cleopatra that were not just costumes but high fashion. They had to communicate not only her physicality but project power as well. The dyes used in the fabrics were made with Sophie’s skin tone in mind so that she would exhibit a golden glow. The Saffron dress was inspired by Beyoncé’s Lemonade album. So, it is not too great a stretch to say a costume fit for Queen Bey was also fit for Queen Cleopatra.


Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo

The set design by Hildegard Bechtler was imaginative and ingenious. It was fluent and moving as the scenes changed in a smooth fluid manner. The center stage revolved from one scene to another, actors walked off into darkness others appeared in light. It was a miracle of rare device, changing swiftly from Egypt to Rome and back again. And at one point a submarine conning tower miraculously arose from the stage floor. And in Egypt a turquoise tiled pool. This magnificent play plays superbly well when properly directed and acted. It is too large for just any stage, but London’s Olivier is just the ticket!

In the climactic scene Cleopatra asks, “Hast thou the pretty worm of Nilus there, that kills and pains not?”

The worm of Nilus in this production looked more like a giant coral snake, with vibrant colors of red, yellow and black, but I am sure it made more of a dramatic stage presentation than its colorless cousin the asp.

“Will it eat me?” She childishly asks.

“I wish you all joy of the worm,” is the answer.

When she is discovered by Octavius after the fatal bite, he says, “Cleopatra shall be buried by her Antony: No grave upon earth holds in it a pair so famous.”

This play is about war writ large, East vs West, and two flawed individuals passionately in love with each other and at times at war with each other too.



Is Beyonce a Terrorist?

I think it is quite extraordinary that author bell hooks and TV host Bill O’Reilly, could possibly come down in the same place on the same issue, but apparently that is what happened. Both have come out and criticized Beyoncé for her negative affect on young black girls. Bill from the point of view of an “imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarch” and bell from the point of view of a radical black feminist. Bill accuses Beyoncé on his show, The O’Reilly Factor, on the Fox News Network, of providing a negative role model for black girls to follow with her so called libertine lyrics and sexual imagery in her videos and music which he says encourages black girls to engage in unprotected sex and by doing so become pregnant. bell calls out Beyoncé for perpetuating the stereotype of the young black woman who is always sexually available and asks the question, is she still a slave? She goes so far to say Beyoncé is an antifeminist terrorist. What gives? You know something is wrong when these two agree even if it’s for different reasons.

bell references the cover of Time Magazine by citing Beyoncé for wearing a white panties and bra set like what she used to wear when she was a young girl. It was actually a two piece bathing suit but it did have the intended illusion of looking like a white bra and panties and it was very sexy and provocative. Is it possible that Bill and bell cancel each other out? Or is it one of those you don’t get to make those kinds of criticisms unless you are one of us kind of things? I don’t know, but my head is spinning and about to explode.

I feel I must hazard a response and offer my opinion, such as it is. Full disclosure: I am a white male of a certain age. Now, I have a great deal of respect for bell hooks, but less so for Bill O’Reilly. I lost all respect for him years ago as he became the chief bloviator Fox News. I have read many of bell’s books, we are both from Kentucky, we share a name with each other, and I have actually met bell hooks, although I’m sure she probably wouldn’t remember. It was a few years ago, in Philadelphia, when I attended a lecture she gave and she was kind enough to autograph a book of hers I brought along for that purpose. It was a wonderful lecture and I remember thinking during the Q & A that she doesn’t much suffer fools. She was rather pointed with several of her questioners. But it was what you would expect from bell hooks.

I think bell has gone too far in describing Beyoncé an antifeminist terrorist and a slave. If anything Beyoncé is exploiting the slave mentality that still exists for her own personal gain. She demonstrates great personal agency in her creativity and has become rich in the process. bell asks the question, would we even be talking about her if she weren’t rich? Yes, I think so, because she is beautiful and talented, not to mention provocative.

Bill O’Reilly is off base with his comments because he is white and comes off sounding like a racist in the process. Actually, Beyoncé provides a positive role for black girls as an empowered, creative, talented, and successful black woman.

In my view there is nothing wrong with sexy or having sex. I need to take a long hard look in the mirror, however, at my own self to be sure my attraction to black women isn’t the product of my own master/slave mentality. I will have to give it some deep thought. Meanwhile, I will continue to enjoy Beyoncé and other talented black sexy women. For the record, I am a Rihanna man.