Design for Antony and Cleopatra

Tarell McCraney, the adapter and director of this production for the RSC ,has given a very strong historical context for the play and introduced me to an event i knew very little about. He felt that the piece needed to be treated as a History play with a strong setting that makes sense of the text , and in hopeful making the storytelling clear it then frees us up to explore the human relationships as well as the different political settings of the world of the play. One of the pitfalls of designing this piece is to get seduced, as Antony is, by the exoticism of Egypt and lose sight of the other key locations: Rome and the world of Pompey and numerous battle fields. Tarell has taken the actual events of around 1800 in the Caribbean island of San Domingue(now Haiti and Saint Dominica) as his framework. It was a French colony and reacted to the events of the French revolution with a slave uprising and setting up a new democracy run by the ‘free men of Colour’ led by Le Tuissaint. Caesar sent his brother in law ,Leclec, over to try and suppress the rebellion . (He in fact died of Cholera as did so many soldiers from Europe). It is not a vast leap of imagination then to cast Caesar as a Napoleon figure in Paris, so much of Napoleon’s imagery was adopted from classical models anyway, Antony as a Leclerc  , Enobarbus as Le Tuissaint and Cleopatra becomes the imagined queen of the island .

As we have a cast of only ten, six of the company will be playing a variety of roles and shifting, through simple changes in clothes, different body language and perhaps accents from the  world of Cleopatra to the worlds of Caesar or Pompey. ‘Turning on a Dime’ as Tarell says we have to shift location, so it comes as no surprise to me with a Shakespeare that we need one simple space that can evoke all  the locations. The fascinating thing about colonial architecture is that it mirrors ,in a simpler form, the shapes of the Coloniser’s buildings. So my research looked both at the early buildings on San Domingue ,but also at the Neoclassical buildings of France. I have ended up with a sandstone floor and arches that with the right lighting can feel either European or Caribbean, backed by a curved wall of blue plaster that sinks into a large pool at the back. The presence of water and a sense of fluidity , ‘let earth in Tiber melt ‘ as Antony says will hopefully help evoke both the island, Pompey’s barge and give a sensual medium for the actors to play in. This wall is both the sky in an abstract sense but also an solid bit of structure that seems to dissolve into the water. I didnt want it to just be a Cyc at the back of the space, but be able to take on different meanings in the varied locations, sometimes the sky at others an imprisoning wall.2013-07-10 13.20.14

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