This book writes a performance history of Antony and Cleopatra from 1606 to 2018. After considering the particular challenges Shakespeare’s script offers any actors, directors or designers who stage it, the book looks in detail at Antony and Cleopatra on the Jacobean stage and then at Dryden’s All for Love (the play that replaced Shakespeare’s from the Restoration to 1849). Fast-forwarding across a number of Victorian adaptations and early twentieth century English productions, it arrives at 1953, when, directed by Glen Byam Shaw at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre with Peggy Ashcroft as Cleopatra and Michael Redgrave as Antony, the play’s modern performance history begins. Thereafter, chapters offer in-depth analyses of fifteen productions by (among others) the Royal Shakespeare Company, Citizens’ Theatre Glasgow, Northern Broadsides, Berliner Ensemble and Toneelgroep Amsterdam in five countries and three languages. Combining close readings of theatre records – promptbooks, stage managers’ reports, costume bibles, reviews – with deep historical contextualisation, it sees how, and what, this play has meant each time it has brought its thoughts on power, race, masculinity, regime change, exoticism, love, dotage and delinquency into alignment with a new present. It ends seeing Shakespeare’s black Cleopatra restored to the English stage. Tragedy, comedy, history, farce: this book demonstrates that in performance Antony and Cleopatra is all four.
Josette Bushell-Mingo’s Cleopatra, Royal Exchange, Manchester, 2005; Tarell Alvin McCraney’s ‘radical edit’, Royal Shakespeare Company, The Public and GableStage, 2013
Carol Chillington Rutter
Kings’ in ‘RSC productions’ ( Afridiziak Theatre News , 15 May 2011). But, she went on, she'd ‘yet to see a black actress play Cleopatra’ – making no mention of the fact that twenty years earlier she'd played Cleopatra. Didn't Talawa's ‘ground-breaking venture’ count? Was it too marginal to count? Was it forgotten because it produced no sudden recognition, no revolution, no change ? Or did its significance for the casting of a blackCleopatra and her Egyptians fail to register (even in Croll's memory) because it was obscured by the fact that all the parts in that
Glen Byam Shaw, Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, 1953
Carol Chillington Rutter
‘Blue rayon tabard, trimmed gold’, ‘Red gauze hip drape, white stripes, gold fringe’. Like all the other palace ‘Slaves’, Mardian was barefoot.
Orientalism, then, was clearly on display, and the colour was not just in the costumes. It was written onto bodies. Shaw's Egypt was black: Cleopatra's ‘Slaves’ as well as her named attendants from Iras and Charmian to Alexas, Mardian, Seleucus and the Soothsayer were marked by ‘Long black Egyptian’ wigs or ‘Black curly negro’ wigs, but also by cosmetics. Not a single black actor was cast – ‘naturally’. In
Modern England (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 103–39.
Incidentally, I suggest elsewhere that The False One may have been designed primarily for the Blackfriars (Lovascio, ‘Introduction’, forthcoming). If that were the case, Fletcher and Massinger might have decided against having a blackCleopatra at least partly on the grounds that the light of candles in an indoor playhouse would have had an