The problem with Janet Suzman’s production of Antony and Cleopatra is that it’s distracting. Rather than clarifying one of Shakespeare’s most ambiguous texts, it obfuscates.
Costume choice is an area of particular confusion. Both during the interval and after the show, audience members could be overheard puzzling over the costumes. On stage there is an Egyptian in full Bedouin-style dress, Cleopatra in dresses that could be by a modern-day designer and a range of army uniforms that range from Victorian policeman to American SWAT team.
In a play with many settings and many tribes, costume is vital. Here, it is a muddle and the audience’s take-away question is not about the political motivations of the characters, but rather, ‘Why is she wearing that?’. Meanwhile, Peter McIntosh’s Egyptian set brings to mind a modern nightclub rather than a great seat of power.
Nevertheless, Kim Cattrall brings real energy to the role of Cleopatra and proves once more that she is a commanding presence on stage. Michael Pennington struggles to prevent Antony from appearing as love’s fool - dancing in a cape resembling a sheet in the first act and winched in army boots down to his death in the last - but is far more impressive as a military commander. There are notable performances from Martin Hutson as Octavius and Ian Hogg as Enobarbus.
This production of Antony and Cleopatra is full of vigour but the actors have to struggle against the production rather than it working for them. In a play that is associated with ambiguity and ambivalence, the performers need all the help they can get.