Chichester Festival Theatre
Director: Janet Suzman
Starring: Kim Cattrall, Michael Pennington
Run 7th-29th September
Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy is powerful and sexually charged, and Kim Cattrall of Sex and the City fame, is a symbol of a sexually powerful woman. Yet somehow, although casting her in the title role would appear to be a perfect marriage, the production just fell short of having the modern sexual power it was meant to have.
This wasn’t Cattrall’s fault, however, her performance was actually very accomplished. She’s played Cleopatra before; in 2010 in a different production but with the same Director Janet Suzman, at the Liverpool Playhouse, the city she was born in. One could imagine most of the posh old prunes in the audience being turned into a strumpet’s fool at the ruin of her magic.
The poshest old prune of them all was Michael Pennington who played Antony. The veteran Shakespearean actor certainly added a certain charm and eccentricity to the role, but he was just a tad too beguiled and tad too old to be ‘pillar of the earth’ material.
The foibles over the central relationship were partly due to a slight lack of chemistry on the actors’ part, but essentially the real downfall of this play, was its context. The setting was negligibly determinable, being vaguely contemporary like a Moroccan style Soho Loft, yet the characterisation was decidedly circa 1700. This was neither a fully realised new conceptualisation, nor a full-blown classical reprisal, and the lack of creative decision here meant the acting struggled to find its base.
Octavius, played with spot-on neurosis by Martin Hutson, was dressed in a modern suit, to invoke the idea that he really was a businessman fresh out of Canary Wharf. Pompey and his comrades looked like Rwandan rebels, and the Roman accessory of choice appeared to be a pink or purple pashmina. To add to the incongruity of these stylistic details, the musical interludes between scenes were reminiscent of a Game of Thrones video game soundtrack, and the set was too minimalist to help contextualise the piece.
The outstanding 2011 National Theatre production of Comedy of Errors (Twelfth Night) with Lenny Henry proved that audiences expect to be offered a slice of Shakespeare in an entirely new context, and, if it’s done well it can be seriously good. So, I don’t think it’s fair to say Kim Cattrall’s ‘salad days’ are over, but she and the cast, deserved a more interesting, original production. And you’d think for the second time around, she’d have been looking for one.