WITH THE EXCEPTION of the late famous Indian singer Nusrat Fatah Ali Khan, I have never heard or seen anything at the Barbican that I've actually enjoyed. The RSC's method of acting by numbers leaves me cold. I can't stand the unnecessary fanfares whenever somebody enters or exits, the unimaginative interpretation and most irritatingly of all the strangely chosen stresses in the language — the last being a symptom of having too many voice coaches at hand and a director who bangs on about the importance of delivering lines in his own particular way, ensuring the peculiar sound and sight of actors behaving like a lot of ventriloquist's dummies. There are only so many unnecessary fight scenes and half-hearted, embarrassing portrayals of Bacchanalian revelry than one can stand. This production of Antony and Cleopatra featuring Alan Bates and Frances de la Tour is no exception.
I don't blame the dreariness of RSC productions entirely on the actors and production team however. To be honest 1 think there are forces beyond the company's control at work at the Barbican the building for instance. The Barbican is one of the most badly designed public spaces on earth. the Japanese would probably detect some very bad Feng Shui going on here. Architecture could well be at the root of the RSC's problems. The theatre itself is claustrophobic and the stage too large, causing energy to be dissipated in intimate scenes and the above mentioned phoniness in the crowd variety. A sense of too many cooks spoiling the broth is the only "almost palpable feeling in the theatre". There are twenty-seven non actors involved in this production alone. The Barbican should be knocked down and a park laid in memory of
the horrifying waste of talent and appalling loss
of humour in the face of overwhelming odds that took place there in the name of publicly subsidized theatre.
As usual it is the male lead who lets down this particular production of Antony and Cleopatra. I remember a couple of years ago when Alan Rickman did the same thing by mumbling his way around the National's stage, apparently in the same part. Why do men find Antony so
difficult a part to play? Maybe it's because of Anthony's masculinity. The part requires a kind of powerful presence, confidence and lack of introspection that is rare in men today.
Ironically Alan Bates might have been a good candidate for the part twenty-five years ago. Unfortunately he now looks more like King Lear or possibly a slightly daffy gardener who has stumbled onto the stage through the French windows in a Terence Rattigan play, in search of a watering can. His employer would put down Bates's habit of muttering into his sleeve and flying into incomprehensible rages as schizophrenic episodes, probably the first signs of senility and insist that he retire.
Fortunately Frances de la Tour saves the day with a wryly comic Cleoptra using her feminine charms in a way reminiscent of the Carry on films. That may be a little unfair since it's impossible to see any version of the Roman plays without thinking of the definitive Frankie Howard productions but there were times in this show when I half expected him to appear dressed as one of Cleo's maids. I have a sneaking suspi
cion that this might have been a conscious decision on the part of De la Tour in order to save what she could of a production doomed to sink without trace. The final scenes of her ultimate failure and death are the only truly moving and credible moments in the production. If it weren't for her and Guy Henry (Octavius Caesar) whose voice and acting ability single him out, in my opinion as a major star of the future then this production would have looked like a fourthform play, costumes and set provided courtesy of the junior's art class.