Antony and Cleopatra

By:William Shakespeare
Director:Barrie Rutter
Sets and costumes:Jessica Worrall
Lighting:Brian Harris
Sound:Conrad Nelson
Opened:10/97 at the Majestic Theater
Cast:Ishia Bennison, Barrie Rutter, Julie Livesey, Sally Ann Matthews, Roy North, Conrad Nelson, Geoffrey Leesely and John Gully

This touring production arrives stateside from Northern Broadsides, a company based in a former carpet mill in Yorkshire. Founded by Barrie Rutter, who both directs and stars here as Antony, the company is devoted to bringing Shakespeare to the masses, sans the stuffiness. In fact, this Cleopatra, played by Bennison, looks to be more at home in a furniture-polish commercial than on the Nile; she wears a tight lace top, untucked blouse and slacks. And she speaks not in the round, elegant tone of Shakespeare but in a coarse Northern English dialect. Above all, this Egyptian queen doesn't think twice about beating the crap out of anyone who antagonizes her. Yes, it's Shakespeare for regular folks, and it surprisingly does not lose any of its clarity, although the more reflective moments succumb to some emotional complexity in this new-fangled format. Rutter's wry visual touches infuse the production with a welcome freshness, especially the inventive battle scenes in which both sides beat out martial rhythms on oil cans and plastic containers. Meanwhile, schematic-colored costumes (red and orange for the fiery Egyptians and blue for the cold-blooded Romans) let us know who's who. Unfortunately, despite such flourishes, the production fails to ignite the necessary passion between the eponymous pair. Still, Bennison's hyperactive portrayal of Cleopatra as the Bard's answer to Courtney Love makes this adaptation a vibrant, worthy effort.