The Hampstead Players 2010 Summer Production

The Hampstead Players' Summer Production will be
Shakespeare's great romantic tragedy, Antony and Cleopatra.

Octavius Caesar demands Mark Antony's allegiance to Rome, but Antony's heart lies elsewhere. He passionately loves Cleopatra, the fascinating Queen of Egypt, whose splendour "beggars all description".

As a result, he and Cleopatra are brought into outright military conflict with Caesar. The consequences may be tragic for them, but can they triumphantly assert their freedom to love?

We are happy to announce that following our regular summer performances in Hampstead and Pimlico, there will be a one-week tour of southwest France, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of our first tour to the region.


Tuesday 17 August at 8.30pm
La Halle, Belvès, Dordogne

Wednesday 18 August at 8.30pm
La Place des Cornières, Lauzerte, Tarn-et-Garonne

Thursday 19 August at 8.30pm
La Halle, Goujounac, Lot



A booking fee applies, to cover credit card processing costs.


For more details, please visit


Director Bill Risebero gives a preview of the Hampstead Players' Summer Production

Like Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra is firstly a love story - but the contrast between the two is very apparent. Romeo and Juliet are young lovers, and their play is the play of a young poet, revelling in his craft. Their story is told in Spring-like verse, full of rhyming couplets and even incorporating here and there whole 14-line sonnets.

Antony and Cleopatra is about a middle-aged couple. A later play, by a more mature Shakespeare, it is imbued with psychological understanding, and the naturalism of the language reflects this. We are surprised to be reminded that 90% of it is in verse - such verse! - ranging from spectacular cosmic imagery to sharp, disjointed exchanges of pointed dialogue. The words perfectly depict the heroic, confused, tortured struggle of the two lovers against the political forces around them. Romeo and Juliet, I would say, is a poetic fable; Antony and Cleopatra the story, in every sense, of real people. Coleridge, himself a great poet of psychological insight, thought it `the most wonderful` of all Shakespeare`s plays.

It is this sense of reality that prompted the Victorian critic A C Bradley to exclude Antony and Cleopatra from his canon of the great tragedies. For him, it differed from Hamlet, King Lear, Othello and Macbeth because Shakespeare needed to include historical material which, Bradley said, detracted from its Aristotelian purity. And it is true that Shakespeare sails a veritable royal barge through Aristotle`s dramatic unities of time, place and action. The action ranges over many months, and encompasses the whole Roman world. Almost unbelievably, there are 42 changes of scene, which follow each other in cinematic profusion. No wonder the Victorians, with their huge sets, creaking with ropes and pulleys, found it difficult to stage.

Bradley also sought to cast Antony in the Aristotelian mould of `tragic hero` - the otherwise worthy patrician whose single weakness leads to his own downfall. And what is Antony`s weakness, to set beside Hamlet`s `indecision`, Macbeth`s `ambition` and Othello`s `jealousy`? His lust, of course, for the temptress Cleopatra. For sententious Victorian critics, Imperial Rome was a noble, ordered society, with more than a passing resemblance to 19th century Britain, as they saw it. Egypt was decadent and lascivious. To reject the one for the other was unthinkable.

However, in this day and age we can see things differently. No longer bound up with the glories of Empire, and informed by recent history, we can see Caesar`s Rome as a powerful and oppressive predator, on the point both of destroying Antony`s Roman republic, and of forcibly occupying Cleopatra`s Egypt. Their love story takes place against a background of turmoil and doom.

From this standpoint, we can see that the play is about Antony and Cleopatra`s desire to be free from oppression and to find fulfillment in their love for each other. In the exact opposite of the Victorian view, their real tragedy is that they can ultimately achieve freedom from this oppression but only in death. In the play, their love is only hinted at, or remembered fondly from the past. In life, they live under mounting pressure which distorts their relationship, but in death they achieve heroism - united, free and ultimately frustrating Caesar`s ambitions for dominance over them.

And the key to the play, of course, is the character of Cleopatra, one of Shakespeare`s finest creations. Some of the Romans in the play refer scornfully to her - as `gipsy` or `strumpet` or `serpent` - and 19th century audiences seem often to have accepted this at face value. We all know the story of the Victorian lady who, on seeing Sara Bernhardt`s histrionic performance, said reprovingly, `How different, how very different, from the home life of our own dear Queen!`.

Yet there can be little doubt about the insight and sympathy that Shakespeare brought to the creation of a character of such `infinite variety`. She is omnipresent in the play, taking part in, or referred to in, almost every scene. Infuriating, quixotic, funny, manipulative, a fascinating combination of powerful natural forces and total artifice, Cleopatra defies the power of the prosaic Roman world to deal with her. If Antony`s death is pitiful, hers is noble and triumphant. `I have immortal longings in me`, she says and, through her, so do we. If the first four acts of the play are about Antony and Cleopatra, the final act is about her, and she transforms the play thereby.

Our task is to rise somehow to the challenge of such a demanding yet rewarding play. A simple set, giving scope both for the large-scale events and for the close intimacy which the play demands; a 20th century setting, to emphasise the play`s continuing relevance; rapid, cinematic scene-changes to keep the action flowing; sound, light, live music and a committed cast: all these, we hope, will help the magic of this `most wonderful` play to do its work on us.