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August 2008 Issue
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Modern take on public passion


Today's world seems obsessed with following the private lives of very public figures. But is that really such a modern phenomenon?

Not according to Shakespeare, whose play Antony and Cleopatra is described as "one of the great tragic stories of the clash between private passion and public lives".

Shakespeare's take on these historic lovers is being performed by the University of Adelaide Theatre Guild this month, with two University of Adelaide graduates in the title roles: Simon Davey as Antony and Emily Branford as Cleopatra.

Last performed by the Theatre Guild for its 50th anniversary in 1998, the Shakespearean classic is back again for the Guild's 70th year.

The story sees Mark Antony drawn away from his life as a respected Roman leader because of his love for Cleopatra, the ruler of Egypt. Their public passion, which includes several bitter twists and turns, has a tragic conclusion.

Director Brant Eustice returns to Shakespeare after having won an Adelaide Critics Circle Coopers Award for his direction of the Theatre Guild's 2006 production of Julius Caesar.

His modern setting for Antony and Cleopatra means audiences won't necessarily need to know anything about the historic backdrop to relate to the story and characters, Simon Davey said.

"Our version isn't set in the classical period, so the audience shouldn't be expecting to see togas - there's not a toga in sight," Davey said. "But we are clothed," he added.

Davey, who works as a solicitor in the Crown Solicitor's office, is a three-time graduate of the University of Adelaide, with degrees in Science (1994), Arts (2002) and Law with Honours (2004). He has been performing with the Theatre Guild since 2000.

"A role like Antony is very much a challenge. Being able to capture the sense of crisis and disintegration of the character is much harder than playing the extremes. He's really suffering from the ultimate mid-life crisis, and he doesn't have the emotional infrastructure to deal with it," Davey said.

Emily Branford has deliberately chosen not to research too heavily the role of Cleopatra, who she described as "a feisty chick in a man's world".

"I didn't want to be affected by other people's interpretations of who she was or what she should be like. It suits me to take the play as Shakespeare's version of the events and treat it as a piece of theatre, not a documentary," she said.

Branford has been acting ever since she joined the Adelaide Uni Footlights theatre company in 1989 while studying for her Arts degree. Since then, she has continued to mix acting, writing and producing roles, and has developed an excellent reputation for comedy and children's theatre.

"As much as I love children's theatre, it's good to be doing theatre for grown-ups again," she joked. "I've done a few Shakespeare roles, but this is the biggest role I've ever played."

Davey and Branford have previously worked together in the Guild's production of The Real Inspector Hound. "We had a great rapport on stage, we were very comfortable with each other, so that will definitely help in this production," Branford said.

Antony and Cleopatra opens Saturday 9 August, and continues from Tuesday to Saturday 12-16 and 19-23 August at 7.30pm in the Little Theatre, North Terrace Campus.

Tickets ($25 full price/$20 concession) can be booked through the Theatre Guild on (08) 8303 5999 or online:

Tickets can also be booked through BASS on 131 246 (fee applies), and are also available for purchase at the Little Theatre on the night of the performance (cash sales only).

Staff and students of the University of Adelaide can purchase tickets for $15 on Tuesday 12 and Tuesday 19 of August.

Story by David Ellis

The Theatre Guild will also hold short performances of other works in the Barr Smith Library on Open Day (Sunday 17 August).

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Simon Davey and Emily Branford play historic lovers Antony and Cleopatra in a modern-day setting
Photo by Cassandra Backler

Simon Davey and Emily Branford play historic lovers Antony and Cleopatra in a modern-day setting
Photo by Cassandra Backler

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