Part tragedy, part camp drag show, with a little 300 thrown in for good measure, the Studio 58 production of Antony and Cleopatra may be confused at times but does have something to say about gender.
In the advance press for the Studio 58 production of Antony and Cleopatra, director Cameron Mackenzie states that Cleopatra was one of his biggest influences in creating his real-life drag alter ego. Is it any wonder then that he has taken Shakespeare’s tragedy and turned it into what resembles a drag show at times.
Not that Shakespeare’s tragedy is completely lost, as that remains in the capable hands of Ivy Charles as Mark Antony. A stand-out performance, Charles is not only believable as Cleo’s lover but also delivers a clear performance of the text.
Charles is one of the countless gender-bends in this production. Among others, Dylan Floyde channels his inner diva as Cleopatra, Emma Ross goes for robust as Caesar, and Liam Stewart-Karrigan as a shrieking Octavia.
For anyone who has seen Mackenzie as his alter-ego Isolde N. Barron, it is easy to see his influence on Floyde’s gender-bend portrayal of Cleopatra. Flamboyant in Sydney Cavanagh’s flowing outfits, at times Floyde steps a little too freely into drag territory.
Mackenzie doesn’t help in some of the show’s more anachronistic moments either, resulting in them becoming unintentionally humourous. Even while acknowledging that is what a real drag performance can do, it is often jarring inside this tragic tale.
Dive a little deeper though, and Mackenzie turns the table on scholars who argue Shakespeare’s text depicts Rome as masculine and Egypt as feminine or others who view Antony and Cleopatra as the quintessential male and female. He not only eliminates the dichotomy by swapping genders of its title characters, but he also elicits some interesting questions about gender roles that are at the play’s core.
But there is still a misbalance of sorts. Charles may play Antony straight, but Floyde is asked to go further than what seems necessary.
While all eyes may be on Charles and Floyde, there is also some nice work from others in the ensemble. Of particular note is Cameron Peal as Scarus, one of Antony’s commanders and as Cleopatra’s confidantes, Lauren Preissl and Gabriel Covarrubias rise to the occasion.
Choreographer Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg handles the difficult battle scenes with a 300 flair, although at times the more anachronistic movements push things into satire territory. Her handling of the wars at sea is at times breathtaking.
There is little subtlety in Lauchlin Johnston’s monolithic set design, intended to reinforce the differences between the masculine and feminine, ultimately broken down in spectacular fashion.
Shakespeare at a theatre school is a given. Tackling one of Shakespeare’s more difficult tragedies is not. While the Studio 58 production of Antony and Cleopatra doesn’t always coalesce, you can appreciate its boldness and some of the questions it asks.
Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare. Directed by Cameron Mackenzie. A Studio 58 production. On stage at Langara College’s Studio 58 (100 West 49th Ave, Vancouver) until October 13. Visit studio58.ca for tickets and information.