Review: BME Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra

This classic tug of war between duty and desire is brought to life by a talented BME cast

One of Shakespeare’s more hidden gems, Anthony and Cleopatra is a tale exploring the complex interplay between duty, politics and love. Cast in an innovative light on the ADC stage under the inventive direction of Jennifer Chen, this lively revitalisation of the tragedy strives to remodel theatrical preconceptions and tradition, evidently doing so quite effectively. What struck me as soon as I entered the auditorium was the impressive and somewhat intimidating black and white set, with tall columns and multiple sets of ascending steps, which set the perfect backdrop for the intense power struggle which unravels in the play. 

Jaysol Doy’s Anthony stands out with his perfect encapsulation of the character’s grounded strength as well as his poignant tragic decline. He gives an emotionally refined performance of Anthony’s internal divide between reason and passion, clearly plagued by the weight of his duty and his potent desire for Cleopatra. Qawiiah Bisiriyu’s Cleopatra is tender but thick skinned, her performance captures the volatility as well as the theatricality of Cleopatra’s actions and emotions, even though her fervour in climactic moments is slightly lost. The pair’s great chemistry captures their impassioned relationship and makes the moment of their tragic separation touching. Sawen Ali’s Caesar is another standout performance as their portrayal of this three-dimensional villain perfectly balances Caesar’s comedic arrogance as well as humanity.

Image credit: Morayo Ibidunni

The supporting characters also gave commendably strong performances. Both Talia Hardie’s Enobarbus and Grace Leaman’s Lepidus bring much-needed strong energy and enthusiasm, colouring the play with their fiery yet playful performances and executing Shakespeare’s verses with finesse. Lauren Akinluyi’s Pompey is highly entertaining as her confidence and perfect comedic timing consistently left the audience in amused laughter.

Throughout the performance ensemble members stationed at the steps surrounding the main characters augmented the blurred sense of hierarchy and the looming presence of the public eye. This was also fleshed out through the sharp staging which successfully portrayed the shifts in power balance throughout the play. Despite the fluctuations in the cast’s energy and occasional dragging-on scenes, the play remained engaging and enjoyable.

Image credit: Morayo Ibidunni

A production detail that I found particularly captivating was the use of shadow theatre. This creative element visually immersed the audience in the world of the play, and it also gave space for strands of the plot to move in parallel. Also noteworthy are the traces of symbolic colours (red, purple and gold) in costume and lighting, which added to the uniqueness and culturally diverse identity of the production, a testament to the creative team’s impressive attention to detail.

While keeping in mind the difficulty in staging Shakespearean plays, there were still some elements of the performance which took away from its overall polished quality. Some delayed lighting cues and transitions disturbed the flow of scenes resulting in the occasional loss of momentum throughout the performance. Also, the music that accompanied the scene transitions, though an interesting touch, was often out of place and simply filled the empty space between scene changes. Some actor’s physicality was occasionally messy which distracted away from the dialogue and some reactions during climactic moments lacked the emotional depth that seeps from Shakespeare’s verses.

Image credit: Morayo Ibidunni

One of the highlights of the play is notably Anthony’s final exchange with Eros (Arya Kalavath), where the spotlighted actors brilliantly portrayed their heart-wrenching self-sacrifice, moving the audience and epitomising the pathos of this story. This production is a testament to the timelessness of Shakespeare’s work and the ability of modern, culturally diverse perspectives to challenge the traditional theatrical experiences successfully. The effort and commitment of the dedicated cast and crew were clearly evident in this performance, contributing to an overall gripping and refreshing re-imagining of this Shakespeare staple. 


Anthony and Cleopatra is showing in the ADC Theatre from Tuesday 27th February – Saturday 2nd March. Buy your tickets here. 

Feature image credits: Morayo Ibidunni

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