Antony & Cleopatra

by William Shakespeare / 2011, Webber Douglas Studio, Central / Directed by Ben Naylor with Vicky Araico / Movement Assistant Jenny Ogilvie / Set and costume design by Nadege Adlam / Lighting by Edmund McKay / Music and sound by Paul Sartin and Luke Pajak / Fight direction by Rachel Bown-Williams

This was the opening production of the new MA Acting (Classical) programme at Central. Award-winning Mexican actress and movement director Vicky Araico and I made a taut, epic, thrust-stage production of Shakespeare’s tragedy, with a cast of 18. It was a beautifully diverse and glitteringly international cohort: English, Scots, Irish, Greek, Spanish, Bosnian, Dutch, Anglo-American, German-American, African-American, Norwegian-Turkish, British-Tamil, British-Sinhalese, British-Burmese. Antony and Cleopatra, of Shakespeare’s great plays the one which roams the globe most fleetly, seemed the right fit for a very talented cohort.

Nadège Adlam’s exquisite design, illuminated by Ed McKay’s vivid and evocative lighting, used simple palates to characterise the worlds of Rome (metallic and maritime hues) and Egypt (bright golds and sand), with fluid movement between the play’s many locations and infinite dramatic moods accentuated by precise physical languages. Roman military costumes were eclectic: elements of contemporary and 19th-century uniforms, with helmet-masks inspired by 300; Egyptian costume harmonised a variety of Japanese, Indian, East Asian and Middle Eastern garments, and referenced pre-Raphaelite classicist painting. Given the play’s Mediterranean context, the stage was designed to recall a boat, seeming to float above the theatre floor. Music and soundscape were performed live by Bellowhead’s Paul Sartin and Reformat’s Luke Pajak on acoustic instruments (and a variety of objects) referencing folk and traditional sea-shanty.

Though a large ensemble, this first MA Acting cohort was exceptionally strong, and many of them have gone on to make important and exciting work internationally: GOYA-nominated Martino Rivas (Scarus) in Spain, Kitty Paitazoglou (Cleopatra) in Greece, Tyler Graham (Canidius/Proculeius) and Brittany Williams (Dionysus/Clown) in the USA, Natalie Pereira (Alexa) in Bollywood film; Harriet Madeley (Iras), Ivy Corbin (Eros), Lennard Sillevis (Pompey) and Mick Quinlan (Enobarbus) closer to home. This was the first time I worked with Haakon Smestad (Antony), who would go on to play Iago in my 2017 production of Othello at Pop-up Globe in New Zealand and Australia.

This was also my first collaboration with the brilliant Rachel Bown-Williams of RC-Annie. Rachel’s approach to combat, and that of her colleagues at RC-Annie, has been a major and continuing element of my work, bringing beauty, brutality, wit and precision to violence in equal measure.

Photography by Luke Pajak