Morayo Ibidunni with permission for varsity

In a bold move, the Marlowe Society has set the stage ablaze with an all-BME production of Antony and Cleopatra. This is a charmingly fresh take of the Shakespearian classic, with a levity of spirit lending a vivacious character to every scene. Yet it is this same frivolity that struggles at times to reach the emotional depth demanded by such a staple, prioritising, it seems, visual spectacle over relationships between characters. Nevertheless, it says a lot about the cast and crew to undertake such an ambitious project, and I would say they succeeded on the whole in capturing the essence of this contrasting world of love and politics.

From the outset, the visual motifs of purple and yellow adorn the stage, creating a vivid dichotomy between the opulence of Egypt and the severity of Rome. The little lights that cascade down during scenes set in Egypt are especially gorgeous, infusing them with a warm, otherworldly allure. However, despite the visual spectacle, the production is marred by technical shortcomings: stage management struggles with a cumbersome block in the middle of the stage, resulting in awkward movements and long silences between scenes (not to mention the accidental sword clangs); the rhythm feels sluggish, exacerbated by abrupt and cheap-sounding music cues; exits and entrances are hampered by the sheer number of obstacles on stage, leading to unnecessary distractions for both actors and audience members.

"This is a charmingly fresh take of the Shakespearian classic, with a levity of spirit lending a vivacious character to every scene."

While the costumes are undeniably beautiful (can we talk about Cleopatra’s dress?!), the same cannot be said for the execution of certain theatrical elements. The use of silhouettes through cloth was a great idea, but the illusion was unfortunately shattered by the artificial-looking puppets and malfunctioning mechanism of the screen itself. Technical issues such as clashing curtains or only half-drawn dividers, minor as they may be, detract from the overall experience and leave the audience feeling disconnected from the narrative. I expect, however, that technical director Nadia Hussein will make the necessary adjustments for the following nights.

There are some standout performances by actors that warrant praise: Ayesha Jallali shines as Charmian, delivering each line with sincerity and conviction, Grace Leaman’s portrayal of Lepidus injects much-needed humour into the production, Sawen Ali commands the stage as Caesar, and Jaysol Doy brings a collected demeanour and quiet power to the role of Antony, particularly in the poignant scene of Eros’ suicide, heightened – and how wonderful it was! – by gothic plays of light.

"If there is one thing I could tell the cast, it would be to go for it." 

Unfortunately, Cleopatra (Qawiiah Bisiriyu), although young and beautiful and alive, falls slightly short of capturing the ‘infinite variety’ that makes the character so charismatic and multi-faceted. With the backdrop of a BME cast, there was potential to explore Cleopatra as a symbol of empowerment and resistance, yet this aspect seems to have been largely left up to undertones and subtle mannerisms. Personally, I was yearning to see power in the woman which T.S. Eliot famously referred to as ‘thing,’ pure, unapologetic power that I and every other woman in the audience could relate to and admire.


Mountain View

Blackboard: Rhyme, rhythm and reasoning in the age of identity

The ensemble as a whole could benefit from enunciating clearer and speaking louder, as well as injecting more energy and excitement into their performances. Real emotion is needed to excite real response, and particularly in a tragic denouement, the tragedy must be sad to feel so. If there is one thing I could tell the cast, it would be to go for it. Don’t hold back. Don’t let technical failures disconcert you. Do give yourselves entirely to your craft. Do affront the complexities of your characters. With a more concentrated effort, I have no doubt that future iterations of this production would truly shine on the stage.

BME Shakespeare: Antony and Cleopatra is showing at the ADC until Saturday 2nd March.