From Michael Redgrave and Peggy Ashcroft to Patrick Stewart and Harriet Walter.

Cleopatra stands above two people in black gauze robes. Two lanterns stand lit by her side.
Antony and Cleopatra 2006 part of the Complete Works Festival directed by Gregory Doran. Cleopatra played by Harriet Walter.
Photo by Pascal Molliere © RSC Browse and license our images

Gregory Doran (2006)

Patrick Stewart's Antony was a fuzzy-haired old soldier perfectly happy among his army comrades and full of resentment towards John Hopkin's simmering neurotic Octavius Caesar. Harriet Walter's agile and dynamic Cleopatra initially appeared in the classic Cleopatra wig, only to whip it off shortly after as a statement about showing her true self. With no need for a wig, this intelligent Cleopatra quickly enchanted her fawning Antony and the intimate setting of the Swan's thrust stage brought both the passion and the politics up close to the audience. 

Michael Attenborough (2002)

Decadent Egypt, with its brightly coloured and invitingly soft beds and cushions, contrasted strongly with a cold metallic Rome in this production. The sinuous figure of Cleopatra opened the production, silhouetted in flexible yoga positions, soon to be followed on stage by Stuart Wilson's ageing hippy of an Antony. He first appeared in a sarong, his bare-chest adorned with long necklaces and beads.

Steven Pimlott (1999) 

Frances de la Tour and Alan Bates as the lovers were both older than is often the case in casting these roles and this brought a distinct sense of the ravages of time and the wisdom won through harsh experience. The production opened boldly with the lovers engaged in a most intimate sexual act, in which Cleopatra was very definitely the dominant partner, while an audience of approving Egyptians looked on. Cleopatra's preparation for her death saw her, slowly and ritualistically, remove her wig, all cosmetics and jewellery and, at some performances, all costume, before being attired as a queen to meet Antony once more.

John Caird (1992)

A grizzled Richard Johnson returned to the role of Antony in this production. Some reviewers thought he was now too old for the role and for the unstoppable energy of his more youthful Cleopatra, played by Clare Higgins. This Cleopatra would reappear from one scene to the next, not only in a new mood and a new costume but sometimes in a new wig, so determined was she always to keep her audience guessing. The design had a picture-book brightness and simplicity, with a particularly effective back wall that slid together and apart like a jigsaw, the two halves visibly distinct even when united, thus neatly suggesting the irreconcilable differences of East and West.

Adrian Noble (1982)

The RSC's studio theatre, The Other Place, was the venue for this production. Design and setting was achieved largely through lighting – cold and bright for Rome, softly warm for Egypt. Helen Mirren succeeded in delivering the notoriously difficult 'infinite variety' of the role – frighteningly volatile, intelligent, erotic, comic and majestically tragic in death. She seemed tiny next to the bear-like Michael Gambon, whom she led on teasingly for their first entrance pulling on a scarf she had tied around his neck.

Peter Brook (1978)

In this deliberately unromantic, uncompromising interpretation Glenda Jackson brought a tough political awareness to her portrayal of Cleopatra. Alan Howard's Antony possessed a tenderness and softer physical beauty than that of his lover. Brook's simple and inventive design allowed the play to move fast - scenes of battle, for example, were enacted swiftly behind Perspex screens while the private scenes were played out on the plain striped rugs placed downstage. The dying Antony was simply caught up with long lengths of fabric and dragged upstage by Cleopatra and her women - there was no attempt to create a concrete, elevated Monument.

Trevor Nunn (1972)

This production was one of a season of Shakespeare's four Roman plays at the RSC that year. Richard Johnson and Corin Redgrave played Antony and Octavius Caesar, respectively, in both Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra and both roles became all the more complex and satisfying in their portrayal. Johnson's Antony noticeably stood more erect and firm when in Rome, not Egypt. The starkly linear black and white of Rome contrasted with the multicoloured softness of Egypt's indolent opulence. Janet Suzman's highly intelligent, athletic Cleopatra was both a canny political operator and a woman who could believably hop 40 paces through the street and not lose her breath.

Glen Byam Shaw (1953)

Simple and evocative lighting and design marked this production with Michael Redgrave and Peggy Ashcroft. Redgrave won praise for his 'splendid masculine strength', while one reviewer admired Ashcroft's ability to be 'a gypsy, a child, a fury and a great and noble queen in her immortal longings'. Her red-haired Cleopatra was historically accurate for the real queen of Macedonian descent, but still unconventionally different from the descriptions in the play of a 'gypsy', burnt black by the sun.

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