Watching a favourite Shakespearean play again and again can be exponentially rewarding; seeing an unfamiliar work by the bard may be equivalently baffling. The Globe's Antony and Cleopatra begins with a vigorous dance number, full of raucous and bawdy revels, setting the scene for a saga of conflict and war. Following the death of Julius Caesar and the defeat of Brutus, the Roman Empire is ruled by the triumvirate of Ledipus (James Hayes), Octavius Caesar (Jolyon Coy) and Mark Antony (Clive Wood). They face a common enemy in Pompey, but Antony is distracted from his responsibilities – to his fellow triumvirs, his wife Fulvia, and to Rome itself – by his love for Cleopatra (Eve Best), the Queen of Egypt.
Clive Wood, returning to this production from a recent illness, capably juggles Antony's turmoil, infatuation and unease towards the war – lumbered with ultimate control yet unable to pull himself away from Cleopatra. Wood's health isn't in question at all as his soft voice resonates powerfully throughout the Globe's beautiful space. Eve Best is truly wonderful as Cleopatra, capturing the sultriness and prickling playfulness of the Egyptian Queen. She marries this well with squalls of rage – particularly upon discovering that Antony has a wife, when she attacks the messenger with delicious malice before the winds calm once more. These are the finer scenes of the evening and the production would benefit from more of the kind of dynamism and passion of these moments. Jolyon Coy finds the drive and determination of Caesar, barking orders with strength and stoicism, while Antony fires up his men in a rambunctious drinking scene.
Hot on the heels of directing Wendy and Peter Pan for the RSC, Jonathan Munby directs a seamless and understated production. Scenes, entrances and exits blend expertly and the action glides along as elegantly as Cleopatra's barge. Tableaux of the opposing armies side by side are incredibly strong and a wonderful use of space and time. Though the second act starts off well, however, it loses its way towards the end, particularly during Antony's jarring death scene which seems to be played for laughs. This aside, the ensemble scenes are a real highlight, with the fight and dance scenes embodying a world which the audience can fully inhabit. A very good production in all respects with standout performances – yet ultimately not as sensational as it could have been.