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Creation Theatre Company - Antony and Cleopatra

8th July to 3rd September 2011.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Deception and denial

Creation turn their creativity to Shakespeare's neglected Antony and Cleopatra

Creation Theatre: Antony and Cleopatra, at the Said Business School, Oxford, until September 3

Creation Theatre Company has returned to the amphitheatre above Oxford University's modernist Said Business School for its summer production of William Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra.

This weather-proof site already has a Mediterranean courtyard appearance with its leafy quad: above this sanctuary, designers Neil Irish and Sarah Bacon have created a circular stage on which are dotted ruined columns that suggest the decay and defeat of myriad classical civilisations.

Shakespeare balances the personal with the political. The love affair between Antony (Tom Peters, like many in the cast of eight, a regular Creation returnee), one of the three rulers of the Roman empire, and Cleopatra (Lizzie Hopley), the divinely-appointed queen of Egypt is illicit, not least because Antony is married.

When Antony hears about the death of his wife Fulvia, Cleopatra should be freer in her pursuit of her love. Instead, Antony's ambitious and ruthless colleague Caesar (Dominic Brewer) forces Antony into a political marriage with his sharp-suited sister Octavia (Raewyn Lippert).

It is a highlight of the production when the poor lackey who has drawn the short straw, informing Cleopatra of the marriage, squirms in mortal fear as he tries not to mention to his mistress that Octavia is a much younger woman.

The lovers here are middle-aged, still in their prime, and full of the joys of vanity and hubris. Duplicity and denial are their default positions, and are ultimately self-defeating attributes.

The bewigged Cleopatra believes she can hold back the years with her affair while Antony's prowess as a land-based soldier leads him to be convinced about his invincibility at sea. Neither lover keeps their eye on the ball.

Antony loses the support of Caesar, and of the effete, piratical general, Pompey (James Burton) while Cleopatra's hitherto loyal general Enobarbus (a sympathetic reading from Richard Kidd) agonisingly contemplates betrayal as the only remedy to his leader's failings.

Helen Tennison directs the company with fluency and ensures that the rich verse is spoken with intelligence and clarity. Antony and Cleopatra is not often revived; Tennison's lively production may give some audiences their first experience of this neglected play.