Scene It: Emotionally charged 'Antony & Cleopatra' captivates with a modern militaristic twist

January 6, 2019

Fiery passion meets fanaticism in the decadent love story of Shakespeare’s Antony & Cleopatra, as presented in a modernised manner by the National Theatre. Having had the privilege of seeing this production live in London, I can definitely recommend this January's local Cinema Nouveau NT Live screening of this play, which reveals a fated love caught up in the tragedy of politics, passion and power. 


With the latest National Theatre staging of Antony & Cleopatra, you will still see the relationship between the lovers change, as well as leadership dynamics shift, with word reaching Antony that his absence from Rome is leaving him vulnerable to rumours of him being weakened by the Egyptian ruler's lovespel. However, even though the tale is still pure Bard, it's all rather rivetingly repackaged as a thought-provoking, modern military stand-off.

Simon Godwin’s direction of this classic reveals a clear vision. He successfully pays homage to this tragic tale of power-struggles (both from a political and personal perspective) in a way that allows for the seamless merging of the traditional with the contemporary. He impressively does so without undermining the character of the text —the Bard’s distinctive rhythm also still very much in pace.

The set design by Hildegard Bechtler is inspired. It is deceptively simplistic at first glance, but (paired with the lighting design of Tim Lutkin) the set reveals itself as truly inventive in the manner with which it transports the audience from Egypt to Rome and back. With this setting, anything truly is possible, even the emergence of a submarine when the rebels of Pompeii arrive to rev up the already tangible tension.


Ralph Fiennes gives a moving and heartfelt performance as Antony. The emotion he draws into the hyperbole that characterises the interaction between Antony and Cleopatra draws you in and carries you through the turmoil of Antony as he wanes from once fierce lover to shamed soldier.

Sophie Okonedo powerfully holds her own opposite Fiennes’ impressive Antony, and shines in her own right. You find yourself captivated by her love-induced focus, desperation, and obsession. Wit and irony are clearly present and well-considered in the execution of every line Okonedo offers as Cleopatra. With the perfect balance between strong-willed queen and heartbroken lover, she succeeds in making her performance (of arguably one of Shakespeare’s most difficult female roles) a triumph. 


Tunji Kasim's performance as Caesar is enthralling. Every time Kasim steps onto the stage he oozes the charisma one imaginatively associates with this historic figure.

The ingenious gender-swap casting of Katy Stephens as Agrippa, alongside Tim McMullan’s Enobarbus, presents a fresh take on the interaction and impact of the advisers as they subtly guide the narrative in revealing the story-behind-the-story.


Although the tale of Shakespeare’s Antony & Cleopatra may not be a new one, the latest National Theatre staging definitely revitalises the theatrical appeal of this classic. In showcasing clear, strong perspectives through emotionally heightened performances with a modern militaristic twist, this production effortlessly draws you into the unfolding tension and leaves you feeling invested in the fate of the tragic characters.


You can see the NT Live screening of the National Theatre presented Antony & Cleopatra at the V&A Cinema Nouveau for four showings only from 19 to 24 January 2019. Bookings can be made through Ster-Kinekor.


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