Last week, I was lucky enough to see a most wonderful performance of Shakespeare’s ‘Antony & Cleopatra’ at The Globe in London. The Globe is an exact replica of the Globe Theatre which Shakespeare’s troupe performed in – there is space right by the stage to stand and watch performances, and there are seats in a large ring for the aristocrats to sit and watch. Apparently the seats are quite uncomfortable and most people hire a cushion. The performance was absolutely brilliant. Antony and Cleopatra is a tragedy, but the actors playing the title roles, particularly Cleopatra, were so amazing, and made many moments comical – even during the moments that Antony stabs himself. (Like most tragedies, a great number of people end up dead). They really understood the text and dragged fantastic moments of humour out of it. Despite this, when Antony dies, and Cleopatra kills herself, a great solemnness came over the theatre, and you felt your heart reaching out to Cleopatra as she lamented the loss of her great love, the loss of her country, and her coming to the conclusion that the only way to survive Egypt being taken over by the Romans was to die. So powerful.
What I found most rewording was, even though the performers were in Elizabethan ruffled suits and gowns, or old Egyptian style togas, and, obviously, speaking in Elizabethan, is that the performers were aware they were playing to a modern audience and brought out the humour of the piece with modern comedy. The actors playing Cleopatra & Antony, in particular, found moments that would not have been funny to Elizabethan audiences, as they played with modern connotations, modern inflections, modern ways of saying things. It just goes to show just how amazing Shakespeare was, to be able to place humour in his writing that would only be unearthed centuries later.
Seeing Shakespeare again, which I haven’t seen on stage for a while, reminded me of why I think all children should actually see a play of his while at school, rather than just reading it off a page. You can’t get the excitement, the drama, the comedy, the tragedy of it all without seeing an actor pour himself or herself into the words. Mary & Charles Lamb’s ‘Tales from Shakespeare’ may be on the list of 1001 Children’s Books to read, but just reading the stories don’t do the words justice.