NT’s Antony & Cleopatra next Thursday is packed with enough intrigue to fill a mini-series

Simon Godwin’s production of Antony & Cleopatra for the National Theatre may be in modern dress, but it is otherwise a surprisingly mainstream and coherent retelling of Shakespeare’s complex, episodic tale of his other star-crossed lovers.

Played by Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo like the flip side of Romeo and Juliet, we see Antony as a pot-bellied middle aged man and Cleopatra as a needy diva, both of them lounging around the pool (Hildegard Bechtler’s set design is superb) lamenting the prime they have passed. The text of the play famously teeters on the edge of hyperbole, yet both manage to invest Shakespeare’s words with meaning and sincerity, lending them a remarkable freshness and spontaneity. Fiennes rants brilliantly and frequently, without ever lapsing into caricature, while Okonedo’s superb comic timing morphs effortlessly into painful vulnerability when their world collapses around them.

Before that, we get political manoeuvring, duplicity, male bonding and military failures in one of Shakespeare’s most involving, sophisticated plays.

Packed with enough intrigue to fill a mini-series and performed practically unexpurgated, this is both a tremendous treat for those well versed in the Bard, and an accessible entry point for anyone tempted to dip their toe in Shakespearian waters.
By David Vass