Next on Shakespeare Uncovered, Kim Cattrall goes back 2000 years to explore the epic love story between a Roman General and an Egyptian Queen, two of the most powerful people in the world. She says theirs was an almost sadistic love affair and although she has played Cleopatra twice, she still has questions about the woman.
Did Cleopatra die for love or politics, and how much of the real Cleopatra lives in Shakespeare’s play, are two of the questions she examines in this episode. Dame Janet Suzman, who received critical acclaim for her earthy, sexual portrayal of Cleopatra in 1974 at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and also in a televised version of the play, says what we’re watching is the destruction of a relationship and that’s much more interesting than the love story.
When she was eleven years old, Cattrall’s aunt took her to Shakespeare-upon-Avon where she watched Suzman, who would unknowingly inspire her to become an actress, perform. Fast forward to 2010, when Suzman would direct Cattrall in a production of Antony and Cleopatra in Liverpool where Cattrall was born.
It is one of Shakespeare’s later plays and follows the two rulers’ tempestuous love affair as it implodes in a Roman Empire split by political turmoil. Oxford University Professor Jonathan Bate says in many ways Antony and Cleopatra is the climax of Shakespeare’s career in tragedy, writing for a huge canvas, a world stage. At that time, marriage was a political matter. Marriage for love was dangerous.
The character of Marc Antony first appeared in another Shakespeare play, Julius Caesar, and Bate also discusses why it took six years before he would write what appears to be its sequel, Antony and Cleopatra, which now reveals a much older and changed character.
Patrick Stewart played Marc Antony opposite Dame Harriet Walter at the RSC in 2006 and says he made the decision that Antony was an alcoholic who drank as a way to hide from the questions he should have been asking himself. Walter offers her thoughts about the daunting role of Cleopatra and how Shakespeare has ingeniously done the work for the actor, writing clues in the rhythms and double backs and changes that especially helped inform her character. Vanessa Redgrave has played Cleopatra on several occasions and is convinced that Antony does not love her but is instead excited by being with the top woman in the world.
Cattrall goes to Rome to see an exhibit that takes a look at Cleopatra’s history and she talks to Alistair Campbell about his view of Shakespeare as a political speech writer. Actors from the Globe rehearse scenes from the play and Dominic Dromgoole gives Cattrall a tour of the newly constructed Blackfriars Theatre next door to the Globe. The indoor theater is based on the original Blackfriars from Shakespeare’s day and is lit only by candles to recreate the intimacy of the Elizabethans’ experience.
Shakespeare Uncovered: Antony and Cleopatra with Kim Cattrall airs at 9:00 pm on Friday, February 13th followed by Romeo & Juliet with Joseph Fiennes at 10:00 pm.
Friday, February 13, 2015
9:00 pm: Antony & Cleopatra with Kim Cattrall
10:00 pm: Romeo and Juliet with Joseph Fiennes
Produced by Blakeway Productions, 116 Films and THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET in association with PBS, Sky Arts and Shakespeare’s Globe. For more information and to view previews of all of the Shakespeare Uncovered episodes, visit www.pbs.org/wnet/shakespeare-uncovered.
Pictured above: Kim Cattrall. Photo credit: Andrea Southam