This crafty reworking of Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy takes us to where political power, personal honesty, and moral codes all collide.
Cleopatra is a beautiful and powerful Egyptian queen. Mark Antony is a head honcho in the Roman Empire. But he gets distracted from the day job by far more important things – love and sex – and the usual tragic consequences follow. For both of them.
In this remix of the ancient tale, we are transported into stuffy 1960s Britain. The Beatles have not even released ‘From Me To You’, but scandals involving hot sex and the Cold War are all the rage. So the Profumo affair – and ‘affair’ it is – rocks a Conservative government.
The roles of Cleopatra and Mark Antony are transposed in this play onto the lives of Christine Keeler and John Profumo. Of course, in reality, Profumo was a low-ranking aristocrat in his mid 50s who, in today’s cabinet, would be the Conservative Defence Minister. Keeler was a 19-year-old working class women with no qualifications who worked in shops and bars. Today, she would be surfing the gig economy as a trainee barista. This was a match made in hell – particularly for her.
The story, elegantly reconstructed by Luke Ofield and Pip O’Neill, wisely refuses to be overly faithful to the Shakespeare original. But there are plenty of links between the Bard’s text and the 1960s scandal to make the comparison meaningful. It also feels contemporary: from antics in sleazy bars to bullying and lies in parliament, and cover-ups in the press. The playful juxtaposition of John Bercow’s voice, the current Speaker of the House, insisting on “Order! Order!” adds to the delight.
In places the script sounds overly dense and the diction too muted. However, the overall direction of travel is clear. Indeed, excellent stage craft – with entrances and exits from all corners, cabaret songs, superb lighting and a press mob from hell – keeps the full house enticed.
Rialto Theatre, Wednesday 9th May 2018
Returns 17th – 20th May