Antony and Cleopatra, Liverpool Playhouse

Kim Cattrall was last on stage as half of a stormy couple in Noel Coward’s Private Lives. Now she’s back, again embroiled in a tempestuous affair, but this time kingdoms hang upon her kisses.

Cattrall returns to her native city to play the Queen of Egypt in Shakespeare’s tragedy and she carries it off with style. Her Cleopatra has an easy grace and authority. She can be petulant, imperious and ferocious, but she is also kittenish – it is easy to imagine this Cleopatra hopping forty paces through the public street – and touchingly human: age may not wither her, but she needs specs to read her official documents.

Above all, though, she is clever, quick and politically astute. One of the strengths of Janet Suzman’s production is that you are quietly aware that Cleopatra and her women are female in a male-dominated world and must shift as sharply as they can. Cattrall’s Cleopatra despairs of Antony’s clumsy reading of the changing world. And we see that the real battle here is between Octavius Caesar’s chilly, strategic Rome and Cleopatra’s ancient, intuitive Alexandria. Caesar may win on the battlefield, but she outmanoeuvres him into posterity.

Cattrall doesn’t get the whole scope of the part: her late, great speech about Antony does not break your heart as it could. But she is a warm, wise and wily Cleopatra. The equation is not quite balanced though in Antony. Jeffery Kissoon brings a grizzled, battered quality to the part – this is a man past his best – and can equal his lover’s capricious mood swings and sudden rages. But in stiller moments he lacks something in depth and complexity: he doesn’t quite convince you that, though diminished, he has been a man of such charisma and command that his men might weep over his demise.

Elsewhere this is a sharp, lively and fluent account of the play. Suzman picks her way nimbly through the knotty military manoeuvring and conveys the sense of a turbulent world in which the main players hustle for power. Peter McKintosh’s simple, effective set keeps the play moving: a few hanging lamps and we are in Egypt.

And in a strong ensemble several performances stand out. Martin Hutson is excellent as Octavius Caesar: a pinched, fastidious man who flinches physically at the thought of Antony’s amorous adventures, but can also be both funny and moving. And Aïcha Kossoko is lovely as Charmian, Cleopatra’s handmaid, silently mocking a eunuch with a twitch of her eyebrows – a telling detail in a play about sex and power. ()

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.