31 July 2011

"by the Creation Theatre Company. "

By:the Creation Theatre Company.
"A review by Julia Gasper. "

Location, location, location, It can make a production and it can also do its best to kill it. Creation Theatre’s new production of Antony and Cleopatra is splendid in many respects, and the lead actors, Tom Peters as Mark Antony and Lizzie Hopley as Cleopatra, both give memorable and distinguished performances of their complex, demanding roles. Antony, unkempt and louche but tough under it all, is aware that his obsession with Cleopatra is sapping his effectiveness as a soldier and a ruler. He chain-smokes his way through the tense confrontation with Octavius, and thoroughly enjoys carousing on Pompey’s ship when a timely truce is made with the enemies of Rome.

We writhe with pity for him in his moments of defeat and unworthy jealousy. Lizzie Hopley’s Cleopatra is suitably versatile, seductive one moment and bewildering the next. She seems genuinely to love Antony despite her fickleness and frankly manipulative behaviour. Her final liebestod is hypnotic, the atmosphere evoked by means of subtle, murmuring musical sounds. The director, Helen Tennison, is to be congratulated on this and on the presentation of the battle scenes, both on land and sea, which with such a small cast is certainly a challenge.

Octavius Caesar is played with poise and command by Dominic Brewer, who looks rather stylish in his Prussian cavalry get-up. There are moments of subtle humour, as when he ventures onto Pompey’s ship and dusts the seat before sitting down. It would be hard to get a better Octavius than this. I once saw Corin Redgrave in the role and he was far more dislikeable, but Octavius does not have to be played as a villain. As Enobarbus, Richard Kidd is bold and pithy, struggling a little to portray a man gnawed by guilt for betraying his old friend. His description of Cleopatra on her barge is not left to the imagination in this production, as she appears and the scene is presented in dumb spectacle while he speaks.

The real problem with this production is that it is being given in the Said Business School. Although the weather was ideal on the evening I went, the location has so many drawbacks that it could ruin the most inspired production. The building itself is ugly, dominated by its Lego pyramid and the amphitheatre is uncomfortable, with backless, stone steps to sit on. The amphitheatre has a troublesome echo that can make the play’s words hard to understand, and it just becomes irritating. We hear, “He is gone (on!)” or “Speak there (ere!)” or even, “Strike now (ow!)” This is the fault of the architect and there is nothing at all that can be done to prevent it marring future performances. The building is in a noisy part of the city where police sirens frequently pass going wha-wha-wha-wha. In Cleopatra’s dialogue with the messenger, this was bad enough, but when it recurred during Mark Antony’s dying speech it was really awful. A massive crane overhead in the amphitheatre is not a very scenic addition, and when Enobarbus spoke his solioquy to the moon, “Oh, thou blessed moon… O sovereign mistress of true melancholy, ” he was gazing into the sky straight up at this huge crane.

The fact that the Business School has no car park is perhaps temporary (they tell me they are building an underground one) but the long queues for the toilets and for the drinks in the interval do not enhance an evening for which people are paying anything from £10 to £28. I sincerely hope that the Creation Theatre Company will find a nice quiet college garden or return to Oxford Castle for its future productions.

8 July - 3 September
Rooftop Amphitheatre, Saïd Business School, Oxford www.creationtheatre.co.uk

 1st Aerials Oxford




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