“Aside from a couple of well-intentioned but clunky party scenes, there was no variation in pace from one scene to the next”
Gavin McAlinden’s production of Anthony & Cleopatra at Theatro Technis is the showcase production for the students at his weekly acting workshop, Acting Gymnasium, and this is very obviously a mixed ability student production. Michael Claff (Anthony) is clearly a regular, having frequently taken the lead in other productions, and makes a decent fist of it, but the majority of the other cast members struggled vocally, with diction and clarity, which meant that not only was the poetry lost, but frequently the narrative too. Although Gabriel Puscas (Enobarbus) moved with a certain charismatic ease, for instance, far too many of his lines were rushed, mumbled and impossible to distinguish. Too often, the language was sacrificed in moments of high emotion. This was problematic across the board, and particularly marred Hannah Luna’s performance as Cleopatra. This most tempestuous of Shakespeare’s heroines speaks some of her most extraordinary lines in rage and in grief, and we simply couldn’t make them out. In addition, the decision to dress her in a succession of differently coloured corsets did nothing to lend this performance the strength and sensuality it lacked. Nowhere in this production was there the sense of the enormous power at stake in this relationship, nor was it there in Caesar’s icy machinations.
There were some welcome moments of clarity provided by some of the actors in smaller roles – credit here to Emma Wilkinson Wright (Charmian), Anna Walden (Agrippa) and Ventidius (Brian Easty) – and the sound design (including James Jones’ original music) though occasionally heavy-handed, was pleasingly atmospheric throughout, but overall this was a slow evening, running half an hour over its advertised running time. Aside from a couple of well-intentioned but clunky party scenes, there was no variation in pace from one scene to the next, and the transitions were badly managed throughout, with far too much bare stage on show. The two courts were not sufficiently defined against one another, and the grandeur of Anthony and Cleopatra’s passion was nowhere to be found.
It left this reviewer with big unanswered questions, the dominant one being, ‘why tell this story now?’ Theatre is a scarce commodity at the moment, and every production needs to have something to say. What did the director want to say? What did he want his audience to find? As we stepped out into the night, we remained unenlightened.
“an enjoyable watch, however, there was something left to be had from Gavin McAlinden’s direction”
Chekhov has been a source of endless inspiration for actors and directors over the hundred-plus years since the premiere of his first play, ‘The Seagull’. In the last week a new film adaptation premiered at the Tribeca film festival starring Saoirse Ronan, Annette Bening and Elisabeth Moss, giving this 19th century classic a Hollywood makeover. And why not? By focusing on actors, authors, playwrights and the theatre making itself, who’s to say whether this play will ever stop being interpreted?
Although an ensemble piece, the play charts the relations of Irina Arkadina (Leena Makoff), her lover the celebrated author Trigorin (Jared Denner), a nineteen year old neighbour Nina (Nathalie Prange) and Irina’s son Konstantin (Max Easton), who is helpless at gaining attention from either of the women he craves.
Chekhov’s plays were a change from the melodrama being produced at the time. Most of the action is not seen, either taking place offstage or between scenes – it is the way the characters react which is meaningful as opposed to the action itself. However, in this version, the performances felt slightly disjointed, as though the individual contributors were not connected in their interpretation.
Prange as Nina gave an enticing performance as a dewy-eyed, love-struck youth mesmerised by Trigorin whilst Makoff’s larger than life portrayal of the aging actress Arkadina was marvellously audacious. However, there seemed to be a slight hesitation from some of the other actors in their commitment to character.
For a play often described as a tragicomedy, the laughs were underserved, coming almost exclusively from two characters. Yasir Senna as Sorin, Konstantin’s uncle and the host of the summer gatherings, was refreshing with a jovial and mischievous manner providing light relief. Alan Kenny as the school teacher Shamrayev drew the most laughs from his pitiful, pining goodbyes which were never returned by the rest of the house guests. Moments delivered by other characters that should have stirred a laugh were either heavy handed or glossed over too quickly.
As a play that celebrates the work of the theatre and artists, the set was rather lacklustre; with only a few coloured cloths hanging from the rafters at the back of the stage. The props and costume were much more convincing – my eye continuously being drawn back to the dead body of the seagull during its appearance on stage.
The production was an enjoyable watch, however, there was something left to be had from Gavin McAlinden’s direction to bring the piece into full harmony.