Highly original staging of Antony and Cleopatra
Bob Eveleigh: Vandalism forced the production of Antony and Cleopatra to move from Mannville in St George’s Park to the Port Elizabeth Opera House.
However, the change in location plays to this staging’s advantage, for it is unlikely that Themi Venturas’s approach to the work could ever have worked as well outdoors as it does in this, the city’s premier theatrical venue.
This is the 40th anniversary of presentation of the Bard’s works in Port Elizabeth’s annually active Shakespearean Festival.
Themi Venturas’s interpretation, cut from an original five-hour running time to an easily digestible 120 minutes plus interval, becomes a highly accessible, innovative and, and one might even say, action-packed (especially in the second half) version of a romantic tragedy, with highly political overtones relevant to the world of today, that is probably best-known to many people from the 1963 mega-movie starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
Venturas, who hails from the Friendly City and cut his directing teeth with the Young ‘Uns company of this very amateur theatre group many years ago, opts to treat Rome and Egypt – the two locations where the tale plays out – not as historical places but rather as varied situations with similarly varied lifestyles widely at odds with each other.
Rome is well-governed, businesslike and rather reserved while Egypt, as led by its queen Cleopatra, is hedonistic and uninhibited.
On a multi-level setting that suits the production admirably and adding such modern trimmings as Skype messages, CNN newscasts, battle coverage and projected maps and more direct location images, the director has fashioned an entertaining production that plays out at a swift pace, while yet allowing many members of his cast to make worthwhile impact on the audience.
In the title roles, Andrew Horne and Helen Flax (last year’s Showtime Awards Best Actor and Actress in a Play for very different farce portrayals) anchor the show brilliantly. Both have the ability and experience to handle the Bard’s difficult lines with excellent cadence and timing and past teamings also add a believable dimension to their characters’ relationship.
Themi Venturas, taking advantage of Horne’s tall, well-built physicality, coaxes a performance from him that is well up to the best he has done previously in classical theatre. He looks and acts very much like the martial hero but one who is reduced almost to pliable jelly when in the hands – and bed – of Cleopatra.
Helen Flax, as the queen, easily runs the gamut of light-hearted sweetheart to petulant lover and imperious ruler with aplomb while her death scene is beautifully played out.
In support of this pair, Andrew Euan White, as Octavius Caesar, Antony’s fellow Roman triumvir, is equally outstanding.
Smaller in stature than Andrew Horne, he manages at all times to appear authoritative while reflecting the varying controlled emotions – frustration, anger etc – his character variably feels at Antony’s hardly hidden extra-marital activities and these are complemented by terrific facial variation of expression.
The experience of Jeremy Baylis and Andre Lemmer ( the latter, amazingly, appearing on the Opera Hhouse stage for the first time in a lengthy fine supporting role career for the Festival) is harnessed to fine effect by Venturas, with Baylis, as Enobarbus, Antony’s second in command, and Lemmer as Rome’s third triumvir, Lepidus.
Baylis has a natural way with the flow of Shakespeare’s dialogue with perfect projection and movement while Lemmer’s rich tones are always noteworthy, and again enhance this unamplified production.
In a large multi-cultural supporting cast, the lissome Laura Ritchie is perfectly cast, both figure and looks-wise, as Antony’s second wife (and Octavius’s sister) Octavia, and Xabisolethu Zweni has some tremendous moments (including a Skype appearance), as the messenger Alexis.
His scene with Flax as he tries to play down the merits of Octavia to Cleopatra is a highpoint of his portrayal.
Also worthy of note are Sisanda Matshoba, as the queen’s senior handmaiden, Charmian, and especially Natanja Greeff, as Mecaenas, Octavius’s senior officer, who handles her portrayal with excellent vocal inflection and, like White, fine facial expression.
On the other hand, Pierre Gunter, another new Festival face, who does the unusual double of rebel leader Pompey and Antony’s aide-de-camp Eros, could gain by listening to the dialogue as delivered by the more experienced male members of this company.
Themi Venturas himself, as the similarly shown CNN newscaster, also provide fine examples as to how Shakepeare’s lines should be delivered.
There is no doubt that, with but one glitch, the audio-visual design by Alexander and Themi Venturas and Gary Cooper-produced video inserts add materially to the enjoyment of the action while some widely varied music also helps to create suitable atmosphere.
While some older purists might quibble at the directorial and visual approach taken by this director, there is no doubt at all that his staging proves yet again that there are many ways to create and costume a Shakespeare play – and make it accessible – in this modern age.
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, starring Andrew Horne and Helen Flax, directed by Themi Venturas, presented by the Port Elizabeth Shakespearean Festival, in association with the PE Opera House and Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, at the Opera House, nightly to Saturday, February 18, at 7pm plus matinee Sunday, February 19, at 3pm. Seating unreserved, adults R50, children R25 (schools block bookings also available).
Article source: http://www.artlink.co.za/news_article.htm?contentID=29220