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.




henry iv

Is There Free Will?

There is in Louisville, Kentucky. You can find Free Will in Central Park, home of the country’s longest running Free Shakespeare in the Park.

Last night Kentucky Shakespeare, spearheaded by managing producer Matt Wallace, mounted another successful production of one of the bard’s history plays: Henry IV.

Directed by Amy Attaway and acted by a fine ensemble cast it was sight to behold and a treat to listen to. Only a few minor quibbles. Couple of times the mics seemed to fall into a dead zone causing the actor’s voices to drop, a missed light cue or two, and a couple of slow entrances, but these are minor flaws in an otherwise outstanding performance.

Henry IV is one of my favorites among many of Shakespeare’s plays. It has some of his best lines and it introduces one of the greatest characters of all time, Falstaff. Some have said that Falstaff is a stand in for Shakespeare himself and have cited the similarity in their names: Fall/staff, Shake/speare.

Harold Bloom writing in his, Shakespeare, The Invention of the Human, quotes Hegel: “Shakespeare made his best characters free artists of themselves.” The freest of them all are Hamlet and Falstaff because they are they are the most intelligent of Shakespeare’s persons. Falstaff certainly shows his proclivity for eating, drinking, and fornicating and basically being a social deviant.

Anthony Burgess suggests that the Falstaffian spirit is a great sustainer of civilization. It disappears when the state is too powerful. There is little of Falstaff’s spirit in the world today. As the power of the state expands, what is left will be liquidated.

But wait…don’t banish Falstaff, not sweet, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Fallstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff, old Falstaff, banish plump Jack and banish all the world.

Keep Will Free!




Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre






The Globe Theatre was first built in 1549 on the southern bank of the River Thames in the Southwark section of London. The Globe was built as a large, round, open air theatre. There was a roof around the circumference which covered the seating area. Because of its shape and the materials from which it was constructed the theatre has been call a wooden “O.”


The architectural style of the Globe was similar the coliseum in Rome but on a smaller scale. The globe had three stories of seating and was able to hold up to 3,000 patrons in its 100 foot diameter. The base of the stage was called the pit, which held the groundlings. These people just paid a penny for a performance for which they stood to watch. The groundling were also called “stinkards” as bathing was infrequent and no one washed their woolens.


There were no actresses performing at the Globe. Female roles were played by young boys. The theatre was considered too risqué for ladies. As a matter of fact, the reason the theatre was located on the south side and across the river from London was to put a river between the theatre and the decent folks who lived on the other side.


In Shakespeare’s time no one drank water as it was likely to be contaminated by sewage. Instead, everyone, including children, drank beer.

Due to outbreaks of the plague, the Globe was forced to close in 1603 and 1608 and in 1613 the Globe Theatre burnt down. A cannon fired for a special effect during a performance of Henry V set fire to the thatched roof. The fire spread so quickly the theatre burnt to the ground in two hours. No one was hurt except for one man whose pants caught on fire and was doused with a bottle of beer to extinguish the fire. This may have been the earliest case of, “Liar! Liar! Pants on Fire!” on record. The Globe was rebuilt the next year in 1614.


In 1640 the Puritans closed the Globe Theatre with an Order of Suppression against stage plays. In 1614, the theatre was torn down and converted to tenement housing. Fast forward to 1997.

In 1997 a third version of the Globe Theatre was built close to the original site in Southwark. It was called, “Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.” The idea to reconstruct Shakespeare’s Globe theatre came from American actor, director, and producer, Sam Wanamaker who initiated the project to rebuild. He funded the Shakespeare’s Globe Trust. He spent 23 years raising funds and researching the original appearance of the Globe. The new theatre was built using 1000 oak trees from English forests and 6000 bundles of reeds from Norfolk for the thatched roof. Sam died in 1993 just three and a half years before the theatre was completed in 1997. It truly is a magnificent structure and a priceless time portal into the past where we can watch and see for ourselves, how Shakespeare invented the human.

Information for this article was gleaned from the Shakespeare’s Globe website. All pictures are original and taken by me at the site.