Antony and Cleopatra

NANCY NAPPER CANTER is impressed by a production that never slips up.

ADC, 2nd-6th October, 7.45pm, £6-10

Dir. Nikki Moss

This is the slickest production I’ve ever seen in Cambridge. You know you’re in for a show of above average funds when its programme is both unusually glossy and includes thanks to ‘the staff at Fenners gym for being so accommodating during rehearsal process.’ It was all worth it. This show definitely worked out.

The cast is very strong. Genevieve Gaunt’s deep-voiced, surly Cleopatra exudes the glamour not only of a Queen, but of a queen bee. Transparently manipulative and affected, she’s also mesmeric. You pity Antony for being besotted by her: between kisses, her behaviour towards him – and everyone else – is tiresomely demanding, and her smirk at his jealous rage reveals a streak of downright cruelty. But, simultaneously, her magnetism makes his attraction totally believable. Inevitable, even. You want to give her the attention she seeks.

Tom England’s Antony suffered slightly by comparison. England manages the lover/soldier shift with ease: his friendship with Enobarbus (Alex Gomar, excellent) feels as real as his passion for Cleopatra. England’s speech is, however, occasionally a little shouty and hurried. He could learn something from Luka Krsljanin’s Caesar, whose delivery is wonderfully controlled, imbuing lines like ‘Pompey thrives on our idleness’ with particular dignity.

But it’s the technical side of things where the polishing really shines. Intermittent dance routines are not only perfectly synchronised (thanks, Fenners), but also provide a welcome change of rhythm in a play whose complicated plot can occasionally lose its audience. The strips of material that whoosh about during the dance are also very effective: an adept solution to the problem of staging the battle scenes. The use of music, too, is excellent. For me, however, the choice of music was less so – too evocative of a bad Shakespeare TV adaptation or a car advert. Both of which, evidently, this show outclassed by miles.

Almost every Shakespeare I’ve ever been to tries to draw out – and add in – moments of comedy. It often feels like an obvious ploy to maintain accessibility. Not so here. Jack Mosedale’s comic timing in the famous scene in which Cleopatra attacks the messenger is a joy, Theo Hughes-Morgan made me laugh out loud in almost all five of his roles, and there’s a height difference joke that had everyone giggling. What’s more, when the show changes from comedy to tragedy in the second half, it remains just as compelling. In the final half hour, Gaunt invests in Cleopatra a vulnerability that I’ve never fully appreciated before – Cleopatra’s flinch at the approach of Caesar’s hand is as pathetic as it is subtle. I’ve never felt so protective over a queen bee.

This is a masterful Antony and Cleopatra. Don’t miss it.