CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA
Greenwich Theatre, London SE10
Opened 2 February, 1992

Words to avoid here: "avuncular"; "kittenish"; "museum-piece" although, on the last score, Matthew Francis's production seems at times to be a brilliant pastiche of a pseudo-Egyptian rep play. Both set and music are designer-Pharaonic (the Pharos lighthouse represented by a Tardis-like booth, the score alternately sonorous and exotically twiddly); Amanda Root's Cleopatra matures from Anna Scher kid in the first act to '70s disco diva by the fourth; a boatman steals the scene by bobbing mutely up and down in the pit. All Shavian rumination upon imperialism or the nature of power remains as dormant as his Caesar's libido all we see is cosy satire upon bourgeois English mores incarnate in Caesar's secretary Britannus (complete with spats and bowler). Shaw's Caesar is an abstraction rather than a character, but the lower profile given to this burden steers the production mercifully away from tub-thumping: Alec McCowen succeeds in being a paragon but not a prig. What Francis chooses to do, he does deftly and entertainingly; it's not a revelatory Shaw revival, but it has both substance and lightness enough. You could do a lot worse.

Written for City Limits magazine.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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