“Walkabout Productions is leading the charge with experimental drama in Durham…

It is becoming increasingly clear that immersive productions are at the forefront of British theatre’s post-Covid recovery, with directors keen to make best use of all the renewed freedoms social-distancing’s demise brings. And it is immersive theatre that is the chosen avenue of expression for Walkabout Productions’ (Walkabout were also behind the immersive January 2023 play, A Wilde Night, at Hatfield college) excellent rendition of Antony and Cleopatra, opening on November 10th 2023 at the Fonteyn Ballroom in the SU.

It is truly an ingenious concept – to place the audience right within the churning maelstrom of the action, passion, and desolation at the heart of this production. The choice of play was fitting – there are few Shakespeares more all-consumingly immersive than Antony and Cleopatra, rich as it is with war, deception, and ultimately stark and affecting tragedy.

In this new show, one locks eyes with Octavius Caesar as he (or she – Caesar is played exquisitely by Olivia Clouting in this production) parades and posits his arguments for war and conquest to his gathered entourage. Then one feels the air whirl past as Mark Antony (played by Ed Clark) courses into and out of the room, his coat at times brushing past your very sleeve as he makes his grand, rapid entrances and departures. Standing a yard or two from her, one is all the more hypnotised by Alexa Thanni’s captivating interpretation of Cleopatra. The possibilities of immersion, audience participation, and close staging are truly endless – and Walkabout Productions have clearly given it their best shot to fulfill each of these possibilities to the very best.

The production is initially divided into two ‘routes’, the show diverging between two distinct and carefully-crafted sets (Steph Roarty and Leo Ball) and storylines (Kate Moore, Hetty Mentzel, Teagan Booker) – Egypt, tragically romantic, and Rome, thrillingly political and dramatic – only to be brought back together into one cohesive performance midway through the first act. This effect may sound disconcerting but co-directors Max Shanagher and Harry Threapleton made sure to co-ordinate every aspect. The effect is inspiring. For example, as Caesar grows brooding and silence sweeps across the ‘Rome’ set, an impassioned battle-cry erupts from ‘Egypt’, as a stirring salutation to the silence. The use of sound (Henry Flack) mirrors the lighting (Theo Nellis and Carrie Cheung), which rises, and dies, at times the lights flare brilliantly, and then collapses immediately into a pall of utter dark.

Evidently, Walkabout Productions is leading the charge with experimental drama in Durham, pushing the boundaries of the expected theatre tropes. Indeed, after this excellent production of Antony and Cleopatra, it will be exceedingly exciting to see what they attempt next.

By Dan Bavister

Antony and Cleopatra will continue to show at 14:00 and 19:00 on Saturday the 11th of November. Walkabout recommends arriving thirty minutes before to avoid missing out on certain pre-show experiences.

By request of the First Night Editor, the original and edited reviews have been cross-checked by the DST President to validate their integrity and remove any suspicion of bias.

Photo Credits: Walkabout Productions