This post is part of Year of Shakespeare, a project documenting the World Shakespeare Festival, the greatest celebration of Shakespeare the world has ever seen.
Antony and Cleopatra (Antonius ile Kleopatra), Oyun Atölyesi, Dir. Kemal Aydoğan, 26 & 27 May 2012 at The Globe, London, reviewed by Michael Dobson & Adele Lee
Saturday 26 May 2012
By Michael Dobson, Shakespeare Institute
First things first: Zerrin Tekindor is a bewitchingly attractive actress, and a good many men in Saturday’s matinee audience at the Globe – who audibly included a substantial proportion of her Turkish-speaking fans – would have been quite as unthinkingly happy to fight by sea at her request as was Haluk Bilinger’s Antony. A leonine, grizzled, barrel-chested figure, this Antony was a comically susceptible lover first and a doomed world leader only second, if at all. The show opened with the Roman and the Egyptian, surrounded by Cleopatra’s female, musical, belly-dancing court, exchanging what were evidently straightforward and sincere endearments (gone was the prefatory disapproving exchange between Demetrius and Philo), and this remained its keynote throughout. Cleopatra eventually applied the asp on the leather chaise longue on which the couple had been seated when Antony dismissed the messenger, and just as the venom took effect Antony, or a comfortably corporeal ghost of him, simply walked back on, reappearing from the dead in the white kaftan he had worn in the first scene. Evidently their mutual self-indulgence would continue for an afterlife even more cosily connubial than the one each separately imagines in the play.
Actually, to describe this Antony and Cleopatra as ‘the Roman and the Egyptian’ is slightly misleading, since no togas or eagles were on view; Mert Firat’s macho and unMachiavellian Octavius and his faction wore black, but for the most part everyone looked unspecifically Mediterranean. With the play’s central opposition thus minimized (surprisingly, given how topical the confrontation between Europe and Asia will always be in Turkey), this was very much Antony and Cleopatra Lite. The evidently colloquial, prose translation had been shorn not only of passages inconvenient for a company of 12 players, but of passages which might have demanded a genuinely tragic or historical register. The soothsayer was gone; Enobarbus’ Cydnus speech was gone; Octavius’ account of Antony and Cleopatra mustering the kings of the earth for war was gone; the god Hercules forsaking Antony was gone; ‘I dreamed there was an Emperor Antony…’ was all-but gone (Cleopatra’s suicide followed Antony’s after only a swift intervening interview with Octavius); and the queenly robes for the death scene were gone.
What remained was essentially the sitcom of the messenger scene. A cheerful, festive first half (its tone set by a strangely carefree Enobarbus) was followed by a second which never found a different gear. It’s true that the company tried to make a spectacle out of Actium by having Antony and Octavius whirl wet maces towards each other (a piece of choreography confusingly reiterated for the tiny naval skirmish Antony later witnesses during the fall of Alexandria), and it is also true that the production tried to bring a note of real suffering into the humiliation of Thidias, whose agonized cries were plainly audible throughout his offstage whipping. Unfortunately, nobody on stage seemed remotely bothered by this: it plainly never crossed this Cleopatra’s mind that she might be next. Tekkindor’s Cleopatra was touchingly and seductively over the top, but she never conveyed a sense of vulnerability, political cunning or danger, any more than did her Antony: the first time she simulated a wheezing attack and mock-fainted into the arms of her ladies (on ‘Cut my lace, Charmian’) it was funny, but this business was repeated throughout the play, on occasions that might have called for much less affected or insincere responses.
But it worked on this Antony and on this sunlit audience, so perhaps it is churlish to complain too much. This was always a likeable show, and endearingly eager to please: the only trouble is knowing that Antony and Cleopatra can be something altogether larger, more serious, and more wonderful.
Sunday 27 May 2012
By Adele Lee, University of Greenwich
Bernard Shaw once claimed that the real Antonys and Cleopatras were to be found in every public house, and that Shakespeare strained to give a theatrical sublimity to the story of ‘the soldier broken down by debauchery and the typical wanton in whose arms such men perish’. Aware of the difficulties of convincing audiences to take seriously (and sympathise with) these middle-aged adulterers, whose lofty declarations of love are undermined by mutual distrust and repeated hints at the lewd nature of their relationship, director Kemal Aydoğan (perhaps wisely) decided to strip the play of any pretensions to gravitas, and to dispense with ‘onion-eyed sentiment’ in favour of comedy. The result was a light-hearted and thoroughly entertaining production, which presented the ill-fated twain in a similar vein to how Shaw viewed them: more soap-opera figures than legendary lovers.
The fact Antony was played by Haluk Bilginer, founder of the pioneering Oyun Atölyesi, best known in the UK for his role as loveable womaniser Mehmet Osman in the soap-opera EastEnders, and Cleopatra was played by 48 year-old Zerrin Tekindor, best known in Turkey (despite being a talented artist) for her role as Mademoiselle Deniz in the popular TV series Aşk-ı Memnu, reinforced the audiences’ perception of them as rather lowbrow, familiar characters. Cleopatra was, at times, more fishwife than enchantress, more pantomime dame than Venus-like goddess. Thus Zerrin Tekindor, with admirable theatricality, played an ‘infinite variety’ (2.2.243) of parts, and constituted a never-ending source of interest and amusement. And while attired in a white flowing dress – which highlighted her femininity, fluidity (Cleopatra is often associated with water) and the failure of time to wither her – she also had the trademark Cleopatra eyes and carried a dagger strapped to her waist.
Antony was, without doubt, the doting fool and a symbol of disgraced masculinity – he allowed Cleopatra to ruffle his hair in public and place a fool’s cap on his head. When he first entered the stage, in breathless pursuit of Cleopatra, it was clear, given his dishevelled, effeminised appearance (he wore a long white tunic), that he had let himself become ‘the Egyptian woman’s slave’ and was worn out by lust: aptly, he died on the chaise longue (associated with the gods and goddesses of ancient mythology) on which he dallied. The centrality on stage of this chaise longue – the play’s main prop – coupled with innumerable bawdy jokes and lewd gestures pointed to the base and superficial nature of their relationship. Additionally, the chaise longue emphasised the lack of privacy granted to the couple, who always seemed compelled to act out their passion in the public eye (their relationship was, after all, a political alliance too). This constant exposure of the couple further gave the love story a soap-opera quality. Aydoğan’s Antony and Cleopatra were even watched by all the other cast members who remained onstage during the scenes in which they weren’t involved (this was also a skilful way of dealing with the original’s infamous 42 scene changes).
Of course, Antony and Cleopatra is a play about the fraught relationship between the East and the West as much as it is a love story. The Roman general’s affair with an Egyptian queen can be interpreted as not just an act of sexual possession, but of military conquest of the feminised Other. Throughout this production, the Egyptians were portrayed as typically Oriental: colourful, exotic, decadent. They spent their time indulging in pleasure, and were the first to cower and wail during battle scenes (staged brilliantly with the use of water-pinchers). By contrast, the Romans were, in accordance with tradition, depicted as strong, sterile and restrained, and the young, imposing Caesar seemed both amused by and disgusted with the antics of the aged Antony. Yet there were moments when the production destabilised East/West binary constructs; for instance, when Caesar and his men celebrated the peace treaty with Pompey in Act 2 and they performed a traditional Turkish line dance. Could this moment be regarded as reflecting Turkey’s own liminal geographical position and hybrid national identity (as the saying goes, Turkey is ‘European in Europe and Eastern in the East’)? One also couldn’t help speculating about whether the Company, whose own theatre is in Kadiköy, on the Asian side of Istanbul, empathised more with the Egyptians, associated with the creative arts in this production, than with the Romans. The distributing of flyers addressed to ‘art lovers’ and drawing attention to the closure of theatres and the prohibiting of plays in Turkey under the government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, outside the Globe prior to the performance made it impossible not to suspect the play had a political agenda. However, as a non-Turkish-language speaker, I found it difficult to determine what that political message was, if indeed it existed.
Ultimately, Oyun Atölyesi company’s light-hearted and, at times, tongue-in-cheek treatment of Shakespeare’s love tragedy (Cleopatra’s long-drawn-out death scene, in which the ghost of Antony appears, was especially farcical) seemed to steer clear of political or theatrical radicalism, and aim more at delighting the crowd and celebrating the power of theatre (and Shakespeare) to provide pleasure. Perhaps this was the troupe’s message. If so, it was effectively delivered.
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Listen below to an interview with the director and one of the actors, recorded by the Globe Education Department:
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