Theatre review: Romeo and Juliet | Antony and Cleopatra

Andy Clark struggles a little with Antony, but Nicole Cooper's Cleopatra is powerful and beautiful
Andy Clark struggles a little with Antony, but Nicole Cooper's Cleopatra is powerful and beautiful
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STAR-CROSS’D lovers are the theme in this year’s Glasgow Bard In The Botanics season, blessed – for once – with radiant summer weather; but if Gordon Barr and his company have planned a celebration of the world-changing power of love, in hate-filled times, then Shakespeare’s plays often tell a subtly different story, of a warlike, male-dominated world that instinctively fears the transforming creative power of great sexual love, and seeks its destruction.

Botanic Garden, Glasgow **** | ****

In Jennifer Dick’s new production of Romeo and Juliet, out on the green slope by the glasshouses, we therefore see a more-or-less modern world – with characters dressed in a no-holds-barred mish-mash of 21st century metrosexual party gear – in which stupid feuds and knife-fights still blight lives, and gangs of thugs roam city streets looking for a fight. It all seems pretty recognisable, not least the role of the older generation in maintaining old enmities, and failing to stop the tit-for-tat violence; so when Dylan Blore’s intense, down-to-earth Romeo falls for Rebecca Robin’s rebellious and slightly posher Juliet, the scene is set for a heartbreaking tragedy of errors, in which Linda Duncan McLaughlin’s well-intentioned female friar – an old hippy in denim jacket and long print skirt – tries to use the marriage of the young lovers to heal old wounds, and succeeds only when both are dead.

Within its own 21st century frame of reference – with a heavy rock music score rumbling throughout – Dick’s production is pretty well flawless, maintaining a terrific pace through a slightly shortened version of the text, despite an inspired, show-stopping performance from Darren Brownlie as a cross-dressing gay best friend, in place of Juliet’s Nurse. Esme Bayley’s self-hating, street-fighting female Mercutio is impressive, and every single member of the cast speaks the verse with true precision and understanding, in a Romeo And Juliet for our times that holds the audience in thrall, from start to finish.

And there are even more thrills – although also even more pessimism about the final outcome – in Gordon Barr’s intense and brilliant version of Shakespeare’s Antony And Cleopatra, in the perfect setting of a steamily overheated Kibble Palace. Andy Clark, as Antony, struggles occasionally with the sheer grandeur and beauty of the great Roman general conjured up in Shakespeare’s text, although here and there – particularly in his speaking of the verse –he catches a glimpse of a now almost forgotten kind of towering, wrecked heroism.

Nicole Cooper’s Cleopatra, though, is a thing of breathtaking power and blazing beauty, perfectly capturing the combination of nobility and self-indulgence, girlish playfulness and steely regal arrogance, that makes her Antony’s perfect partner in the great tussle between patriarchal ideals of duty and honour, and the immediate sensual joy of life on earth; and with outstanding support from Adam Donaldson as loyal counsellor Enobarbus, Barr’s nine-strong company deliver an Antony and Cleopatra to remember, a little short of pace in its final scenes, but full of rich and sensual images that truly brand themselves on the mind.

JOYCE MCMILLAN

Both until 7 July