Sunday, March 13, 2011

For someone with a sinister snake obsession, you couldn't find a more satisfying story than Antony and Cleopatra featuring the asp in a substantial cameo as villain extraordinaire. (I guess there's Adam and Eve. But I don't know if anyone's made a play about them.)

Every single snake fetish or fantasy I might ever have had was indulged by Northen Ballet's production of Cleopatra. With (aspy) bells on.

The curtain rose to a promising enough tableau. A lady, presumably The Lady herself, folded in two in a dramatic and beautifully lit position centre stage wearing an adorable little be-colourful- ribboned dress.

The music struck up with a wild Eygptian vengeance.

So far, so good.

But then.

But then.

A tall stocky fellow paraded into view. Did I say paraded? I suppose I meant insinuated his way into view. His tall stocky body adorned in a multi-coloured body stocking. His head all bald-wigged and blue Mohican. I later learnt that this fellow goes by the name of Wadjet. A suitably serpentine name?

It quickly became clear from his slithery movements that this proudly (skimpily) adorned fellow was The Snake. Here he is striking a powerful pose.

Spot his wicked aspy hand? Poised like the head of a snake, ready to virulently strike.

Here he is again, hand directed towards vulnerable bosom, ready to deal the final death blow.

Man, it was powerful stuff.

Actually, it was not.

It was ever so slightly ridiculous.

They tried hard, bless them. There were loads of them. Running about in a huge variety of very colourful costumes. All Egyptian headdresses and eye-linered eyes.

They danced very beautifully.

They were lit very beautifully.

But it did not get over the fact that - well, actually there were several unfortunate facts:

- none of them appeared to be able to act terribly well, with the possible exception of Antony. Of course this is a dance show. And they did that bit very nicely. But I wasn't really feeling Cleo's heartbreak when Antony shoved the sword under his arm.

- the music was a strident and hideous cross between (what I imagine) the Lion King and Miss Saigon sound like.

- the set was super. All crumbling pillars. Trundling rostra. Elevating platform at the back of the stage. A bath. A bath! in which lil' brother met his sloppy end. Lots and LOTS of projections. I stared covetously during the curtain call (a bad sign) at two giant projectors suspended over the stage. But as beautiful date for the night Thea commented, they all looked a little bit too much like powerpoint gone mad. The blood dripping sinuously down the walls as Antony went off into battle was my cringiest favourite.

But all of this was dwarfed by some superbly clumsy choreography.

To be fair, I think they had their work cut out as they opted for Cleopatra's full life story as their start point. So she had to murder her brother, get hauled into Caesar wrapped in a carpet, fall for him, bear his child, parade small bald child around the stage some, acknowledge grown Caesar child, bump him off, fall for Antony, get jiggy with him and then. Well, this version seemed to suggest she got fed up of him too so had him bumped off. Before the snake came back for her.

The entirety of this story was told with much wrist flicking from The Snake. Sorry, Wadjet. Who flitted about in the back- and sadly foreground throughout, looking as sinister as a stocky man in a painted lycra suit can.

Child of Caesar was conceived dramatically with the wrapping of C&C in a long piece of white fabric which was then - really - snatched from between Cleo's legs, bundled into baby form and passed back to her.

But the moment which made the entire evening an even more exquisite pleasure came not during the death throws of the snake's final sinuous soliloquy but during the fleeting appearance of Antony's til then forgotten wife, sister of Octavius Caesar, Octavia.

She trots suddenly onto the stage, all long white flowing dress, long blonde hair (the hair of the innocent and pure), diamonded and tiarra'd to the hilt to show she's posh. Cleo stalks on, resplendent in orange pants and a flesh coloured top body bit with strategically placed flowers. A lady versus a girl in a swimsuit. And poor old Antony has to choose.

He chooses sexy swimsuit and they retire (to get jiggy) stage left. Octavia makes a sad face, drifts up stage towards her assembled family lurking on the back platform, and with a rousing clash of the tragic cymbals, her assembled family - really - just to make sure we the clearly stupid audience get it - give her a thumbs down gesture.

In a ballet.

I don't remember such a move ever. Ever. Being served up in Giselle.

Oh Northern Ballet. I think you're brilliant.

But this was closer to Cleopatra The Musical.

With The Asp in a starring role.

I can learn from this.

Cut The Asp.


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