She slinks like a reptile around the stage, moving from charm to vicious violence to winsome pleading. Kathryn Hunter's performance as Cleopatra may not be the sexiest ever, but I've never seen an actress who brings to life Shakespeare's description of the Egyptian queen as well as she does. 'Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.' Hunter is a performer of legendary physical skills and it's easy to imagine her 'hopping through the public streets'. In Michael Boyd's modern dress production for the RSC there is a culture clash between Cleopatra's Egypt and the Roman army of Octavius Caesar, smartly clad in desert fatigues as if stopping to mop up a bit of local resistance on the Nile before proceeding to Iraq or Afghanistan. Mark Antony's troops are more relaxed in their dress code and their discipline, while Cleopatra and her attendants come from the louche end of the Mediterranean, possibly the brothels of Beirut or Alexandria.
I saw this play on a Saturday afternoon in a Roundhouse which was half empty, presumably the result of heavy snowfalls and London traffic chaos. For me it never quite came alive, and I found my attention wandering when Cleopatra was off the stage. Darell D'Silva is a workmanlike Antony, but lacks the grandeur of Patrick Stewart in the same role. The real reason to see Boyd's production lies in Hunter's simian shape-shifting interpretation of Shakespeare's greatest female part. If the Bard were alive to see it, I think he'd be throwing his hat in the air in delight.