Review: Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare at Chichester Festival Theatre

On the surface, this Shakespearean masterpiece echoes with notes of his earlier Romeo and Juliet.

But this is not a tale merely of two warring families. This play is on a grander scale.

For Antony and Cleopatra not only charts one of history’s greatest love stories – but also illuminates the global politics of the age.

It searches too the hearts and minds of the lead characters. Was Cleopatra’s love for Antony real – or a pretense to protect her and domains?

And what of Antony – this great military leader and who was one of three men who together ruled Rome after the assassination of Julius Caesar? How did he come to allow his lust for one woman to so supremely unbalance his judgment?

This production, gloriously staged, opens in splendor with Kim Cattrall’s Cleopatra rising like the sun from the pit of the earth.

There are clever uses of modern costume too – which with a simple suit and tie exposes Octavius Caesar (Martin Hutson), their nemesis, as pen pusher rather than general.

While Michael Pennington’s Antony so perfectly captures the mesmerizing bewilderment which was to destroy him.

But for all that, this version never quite manages to show the multi-dimensional plot and characterization in all their glory.

Doomed as the lead characters are, there should be some depth and magic in them that moves us to hope that they can, if for this one night only, avoid their tragic destiny.

Instead, the death scenes feel labored and overlong – and when they expire it is left to Caesar rather than the audience to recognize their greatness.

Gary Shipton