Last night was the pilgrimage to Maynardville for the opening night of the yearly outdoor Shakespeare. This year it is Antony and Cleopatra. After the delightful and mostly interrupted picnic on the lawns; there was a lot of jumping up and kissing of opening night people, we filed into the venue, piled cushions on seats and realised that we (my darling friend and Shakespeare lover was my date because Big Friendly has sworn off Shakespeare and Maynardville) had arguably the worst seats in the whole space. We were in the fourth row, right at the end on the right. I could see nothing over the heads of everyone in front of us, I could see nothing of anything at the back, behind the set, I could see nothing on stage right at all. There were two spots where I could see well; directly in front of me and on the beautiful raised circle of the set.
When the final ‘take your seats’ bell rang and the ‘switch off phones’ announcement was made we realized how close we were to the speaker! Well, at least we were going to be able to hear everything.
Before last night I had lots of mixed feelings about A and C. I was very excited that Marthinus Basson was making a return to Maynardville, since he is one of my favourite directors, but I had very clear memories of Marthinus’s last A and C, which was most beautiful but very strange, with the not entirely successful Aletta Bezuidenhout and Andrew Buckland as the leads. It also had a gold Mark Hoeben as soothsayer, with gold live snakes. I was nervous that this year’s leads seemed very, very young, and I was in my normal state about Shakespeare’s ‘historicals’, since I never properly understand what’s going on. In fact, I know A and C pretty well, having seen it live and in movies many times, but I still have no actual clue what the political story is.
Mixed feelings are what I left with afterwards too. There was a lot about this production that I liked, there was a lot that I didn’t, but mostly, although I enjoyed watching the spectacle (what I could see of it) I remained unmoved emotionally. The really good things were the design and costumes, which, of course, Marthinus is magnificent at. Tinarie van Wyk Loots as Cleopatra and Andre Weideman (who I just completely adore) were damn fine and very good as A and C, and even got away with being so young, Andrew Laubscher was successful and irritatingly good as the young Octavius, and nobody was truly hideous, although I definitely had my favourites. I thought Mark Hoeben (in a completely different part this time) and Eben Genis were really very, very good. I liked the original music, with the different sounds for Egypt and the war and Rome. I loved the costumes, especially the suits of Rome.
There is no doubt that I would have been more engaged with the production if I had been able to see more. But here’s another thing. I don’t know if it’s because of the limitations of Maynardville as a venue, but I found everybody’s performance very one levelled. Antony was big and shouty, Cleopatra was either woes or happy, with a lot of head holding, Octavius was whiny and plotting. And mostly, the speaking of Shakespeare was not completely fantastic. There were so many times when I had no idea what anyone was actually talking about. Lionel Newton was an exception, and his ‘the barge she sat on’ speech was beautiful. The bottom line is that as an audience member you have to care for ole Cleopatra (at least) because if you don’t her death is endless. Which is a little bit how I felt about the production; stylish, interesting, but, as with most Shakespeare, endless.