Theatre View: Bell Shakespeare’s Cleopatra and Antony
Set in the ruthless, ever-expanding empire of Rome, Shakespeare paints a portrait of a love too great for the world. Mark Antony is a hero in a post-heroic time. He is torn between duty and love; his responsibility to Rome and his new life in Egypt; to the world, he helped conquer; and his passion for Cleopatra. Bell Shakespeare’s Artistic Director, Peter Evans, is set to direct a brand new production of Antony and Cleopatra, featuring AFI, ASTRA and Logie award-winning actress, Catherine McClements and Bell Shakespeare regular, Johnny Carr.
“I continue to be fascinated by Shakespeare’s ability to take the grandest moments in history and make them profoundly personal. Antony and Cleopatra chart the course of two of history’s famous leaders, the world’s first ‘celebrity couple, but at the core, it’s a story of love, of passion, of heartbreak.”
In the past you’ve directed a number of Shakespeare’s plays including Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Macbeth and The Tempest, and you’re now directing Antony and Cleopatra. How have you approached this new play?
I’ve approached this play like I approach all others (laughs). Initially, you spend a lot of time alone, deciding how a play will be translated, adapted, and portrayed. I take at least a year to be on my own with a play. And then I bring in other people so there is more to work with than just my own thoughts and opinions. And from there it becomes a very collaborative process working with producers, set designers, musicians, and actors.
What can audiences expect from this adaptation?
Something big, glamorous and lavish. This production has strong visuals rather than the traditional stark, minimalist theatre look. A tremendous amount of work has come from the crew to bring this to life, as well as the cast. This play spans across multiple genres and depicts a variety of topics like politics, love, and tragedy. It’s a very adult and mature play and the cast have worked hard to develop these rich characters and tell an incredible story.
Can you talk about the process of casting your actors? The majority of the Cast for Anthony and Cleopatra have worked on Bell Shakespeare productions in the past. Do you purposely keep actors in mind for future productions?
The way I usually cast a production is in thirds. One-third of the actors are people who I’ve personally worked with before. Catherine McClements, I’d worked with previously on the 2013 production of Racine’s Phèdre. And from that point, I’d had her in mind for Cleopatra. The second third of the actors have worked on other Bell Shakespeare productions in the past, and the final third are new to Bell Shakespeare altogether. Usually, I’ve seen pieces of work from the majority of the cast but every now and then someone completely unknown to me comes on the scene and it’s very exciting working with new people. I’m also very interested in further exploring colour-blind casting, and diversity among gender casting expanding the roles women play in these productions.
Shakespeare’s work is world-renowned. What goes into directing a Shakespearean play as opposed to directing something written by another artist?
Shakespeare’s play is the pinnacle if that’s the line of work you’re in. And working on one of Shakespeare’s plays is such a high honour you’re always striving to reach that level of perfection that his plays have.
With such a large body of work behind you, after Antony and Cleopatra what’s next?
Something really light-hearted and funny. 2018 has already been such a big year for Bell Shakespeare and that’s going to continue with my colleagues working on big productions Julius Caesar and The Misanthrope. After Antony and Cleopatra, I won’t be directing again until next year.