A beautiful blonde is sprawled lasciviously on the floor. Her form-fitting, black dress sparkles as she moves, reaching out towards her lover. He is sinisterly attractive, with heavy-lidded eyes and a mouth that teases with a sneer when he smiles. He caresses her face, touches her arm, then strokes her curves, and he oozes just enough sleaze to make him irresistible in a darkly sensual way.
Meet Antony and Cleopatra.
They are probably not the characters you expected from Shakespeare’s historical play. There is no iconic Elizabeth Taylor short black wig for Cleopatra; in this version her locks are long, dyed-blonde, and starting to lose last night’s curl. Her make-up is faded and she’s lost her shoes – yet she still manages to look amazing. Antony too is a far cry from the famous film-versions; this Antony is devilishly insidious. Dressed in black leather that harks back to Nazi Germany, he is a picture of arrogance and cruelty – and yet – there is something delicate in the fluidity of his slow, deliberate movements that speaks of softness, perhaps even vulnerability. When Antony hears of his wife’s death, for a moment he bows his head and rubs his eyes. The heavy make-up on his lids dirties his fingertips and as he tries to wipe it away there is a sudden desire to know what man may lie behind that mask of (eye) shadow.
The interpretation of the title characters is not all that challenges expectations. Rome is a Technicolor world where the military uniforms are adorned with coloured ribbon and gems. Egypt is black-and-white, opulent, and sexy. The milieu is inspired by Wehrmacht Germany, immediately evoking the sense that beneath the richness something dirty festers. It is always a risk to mess with Shakespeare’s setting, but this one pays off, boldly mixing the glamour of sexual revelry with the seediness of the ‘morning after’.
You may already know the doomed tale of these lovers, but the artistically daring interpretations of character and creative vision make it something modern and new. Fans of Shakespeare will be wowed by the intelligent and arresting adaptation; fans of theatre should indulge in this production – so dirty, rich, and beautiful.