In many ways, going to see Season’s Greetings at the National Theatre is a very different experience from seeing Antony and Cleopatra in the Swan theatre the light before. Here we have a lavish set, consisting of three floors of a house and lots of doors. Without knowing the play, I kind of guess that there will be a mix up and lots of people entering and exiting through them. Catherine Tate didn’t disappoint and delivered a lovely performance. I think that I will need to get used to seeing her this year with Much Ado About Nothing coming up this summer. For me, this was just good entertainment, and I enjoyed a relaxing afternoon in the theatre. It was like all those farces, I was taken to as a child when we were on holiday or visiting London with my parents.
When anyone says that they were at that last night of Wigan Casino, I always wanted to know what it was like, because being there on such a momentous occasion seemed really special. For example, I was fascinated to know how did it feel when the three before eight played for the last time? I found out that the famous Northern Soul venue ended up having three last nights, and so being at the last night didn’t seem as awe inspiring as I first thought. It is starting to feel a bit like this with the opening of the RST, and that even though I think I was at the opening night of the RST, and I would be able to talk about this for years to come, I was probably at one of many opening nights. There was an opening last November (which I wasn’t at), and then there was the RSC coming home on 23rd February 2011, when the Company performed King Lear. Last Friday (4th March), I managed to get returns to see Katy Stephens (taking over from Kathryn Hunter) play Cleopatra in the newly opened Swan and found myself at another opening of the RST. This time the Queen was visiting and apparently she unveiled a plaque, saw Sam Troughton and Mariah Gale perform the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, and had lunch in the Rooftop Restaurant.
I had expected to see one Queen in performance and found myself catching a glimpse of another dressed in cerise as she undertook a brief walkabout outside the new RST. Not far behind her, I spotted Artistic Director, Michael Boyd and Associate Greg Doran dressed very smartly in suits. I think the last time I saw the Queen was in 1977, the year of Sex Pistols ‘God Save the Queen’ and the Silver Jubilee.
In coming home to the Swan, Antony and Cleopatra has had to be adapted for a new space and the creative team had opted for a minimalist stage set. Gone was Cleopatra’s accent, her many costume changes and Mardian’s wig. The rustic metallic tower had also disappeared and the staging utilised the rawness of the theatre itself as the backdrop worked very well. In the Swan you can still hear actors creeping behind the audience to make their entrances and exits, one of the features that made the Courtyard a little special.
Not everyone has swapped round as they did when Katy Stephens played the role in Newcastle, but Greg Hicks is still understuding Thidias and still giving a fantastic performance. I know that when a company has to use understudies, there is more doubling than usual, but some of the doubling in this production doesn’t work for me. Maybe it is because I have followed this long ensemble for its two years and can now easily recognise actors, and start to question why is Mardian in Rome? Why is the Soothsayer taking notes? Why is Octavia fighting for the Romans (and at one point why is she in Egypt)? Why does Scarus change sides so often?
Katy Stephens made a really good job of playing Cleopatra and presented her own Cleopatra, which wasn’t an impression of Kathryn Hunter’s physical performance. This was a much more confident performance than the one that Katy Stephens gave in Newcastle, when she had to go on at short notice. She played up Cleopatra’s sexuality and emotional vulnerability very well. Katy Stephens is very good at producing wet eyes and she managed to present this here as well. I think that there was a chemistry between her and Darrell D’Silva’s Antony. Their eventual deaths were very powerful and this was the first time I saw this production and felt sad at the end.
“Remember if e’er thou look’dst on Majesty”.