Antony and Cleopatra (Antonius ile Kleopatra)

Oyun Atolyesi, May 26 2012

First things first: Zerrin Tekindor is a bewitchingly attractive actress, and a good many men in Saturday’s matinee audience at the Globe – who audibly included a substantial proportion of her Turkish-speaking fans – would have been quite as unthinkingly happy to fight by sea at her request as was Haluk Bilinger’s Antony.  A leonine, grizzled, barrel-chested figure, this Antony was a comically susceptible lover first and a doomed world leader only second, if at all.  The show opened with the Roman and the Egyptian, surrounded by Cleopatra’s female, musical, belly-dancing court, exchanging what were evidently straightforward and sincere endearments (gone was the prefatory disapproving exchange between Demetrius and Philo), and this remained its keynote throughout.  Cleopatra eventually applied the asp on the leather chaise longue on which the couple had been seated when Antony dismissed the messenger, and just as the venom took effect Antony, or a comfortably corporeal ghost of him, simply walked back on, reappearing from the dead in the white kaftan he had worn in the first scene. Evidently their mutual self-indulgence would continue for an afterlife even more cosily connubial than the one each separately imagines in the play.

Actually, to describe this Antony and Cleopatra as ‘the Roman and the Egyptian’ is slightly misleading, since no togas or eagles were on view; Mert Firat’s macho and unMachiavellian Octavius and his faction wore black, but for the most part everyone looked unspecifically Mediterranean.  With the play’s central opposition thus minimized (surprisingly, given how topical the confrontation between Europe and Asia will always be in Turkey), this was very much Antony and Cleopatra Lite.  The evidently colloquial, prose translation had been shorn not only of passages inconvenient for a company of 12 players, but of passages which might have demanded a genuinely tragic or historical register.   The soothsayer was gone; Enobarbus’ Cydnus speech was gone; Octavius’ account of Antony and Cleopatra mustering the kings of the earth for war was gone; the god Hercules forsaking Antony was gone; ‘I dreamed there was an Emperor Antony…’ was all-but gone (Cleopatra’s suicide followed Antony’s after only a swift intervening interview with Octavius); and the queenly robes for the death scene were gone.

What remained was essentially the sitcom of the messenger scene.  A cheerful, festive first half (its tone set by a strangely carefree Enobarbus) was followed by a second which never found a different gear.  It’s true that the company tried to make a spectacle out of Actium by having Antony and Octavius whirl wet maces towards each other (a piece of choreography confusingly reiterated for the tiny naval skirmish Antony later witnesses during the fall of Alexandria), and it is also true that the production tried to bring a note of real suffering into the humiliation of Thidias, whose agonized cries were plainly audible throughout his offstage whipping.  Unfortunately, nobody on stage seemed remotely bothered by this: it plainly never crossed this Cleopatra’s mind that she might be next.  Tekkindor’s Cleopatra was touchingly and seductively over the top, but she never conveyed a sense of vulnerability, political cunning or danger, any more than did her Antony: the first time she simulated a wheezing attack and mock-fainted into the arms of her ladies (on ‘Cut my lace, Charmian’) it was funny, but this business was repeated throughout the play, on occasions that might have called for much less affected or insincere responses.

But it worked on this Antony and on this sunlit audience, so perhaps it is churlish to complain too much.  This was always a likeable show, and endearingly eager to please: the only trouble is knowing that Antony and Cleopatra can be something altogether larger, more serious, and more wonderful.

Professor Michael Dobson
Director of the Shakespeare Institute; Professor of Shakespeare Studies
Shakespeare Institute,  Stratford-upon-Avon