‘Back to Basics’
Peter Hall, Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, 1987
in Antony and Cleopatra
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Casting Judi Dench and Anthony Hopkins as his star couple, using an uncut text (taken not from any modern edition of Antony and Cleopatra but from the 1623 Folio), and referring to Harley Granville-Barker’s 1930 Prefaces to Shakespeare as his principal critical source, Peter Hall eschewed the orientalism of every production of the play on the English stage since 1953 to make this a very English Antony and Cleopatra, not least in his all-white casting, his near-religious attention to the text and his ‘iambic fundamentalist’ demands for the ‘correct’ speaking of the verse. Some reviewers heard the ‘true sound of Shakespeare’ in Hall’s large-scale production; others thought Hall’s ‘sumptuous nostalgia for the grand style’ lost something vital to Shakespeare – the rough, the raw, the immediate. All agreed that Dench and Hopkins gave performances of such ‘searing, wounded intimacy’ that they would ‘take you by the throat even played on a windy day on a Brighton pier’.


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