Ralph and Cleopatra

Antony and Cleopatra in the Olivier at the National Theatre; a bracingly modern techno-thriller with executive suites, machine guns, and a cleverly-done modern submarine. Also Sophie Okonedo in the role of Beggared-all-Description, and Ralph Fiennes as her shaggy-paunched pursuer.

Starry stuff, and if a touch bombastic it’s a very entertaining production in all sorts of ways. My only real caveat is that there’s a problem at the center of the play, which I noticed never more than here. Antony is forever being described as a magnetic, charismatic, brilliant leader – James Bond in both the dangerous skills and the dangerous charm, but with more depth. Yet when the play begins (and it’s thrice underlined, here) he is a louche derelict with a Hawaiian shirt, lounge pants, and a half-finished bottle of Scotch. Fiennes can do charisma, but here he (also successfully) does decline – and so Cleopatra’s longing, and the whole relationship, becomes oddly hard to believe.