On stage in London

Antony and Cleopatra: Those in search of Shakespeare need look no further than this offering at the National Theater (NT). Starring Anthony Hopkins and Judi Dench in the title roles, this production, directed by Sir Peter Hall, relies on a gimmick-free rendering that gives the central characters a chance to shine all the brighter. Played as two middle-aged people who discovered passion a bit late in life, they are wrapped up in each other. Hopkins oozes raffish appeal; Dench more than matches him as a quicksilver Cleopatra who uses every trick in the book (and then some). Call the NT for days, times. Tel. (01) 928-2088. Romeo and Juliet: Over at the Barbican, the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) has mounted Shakespeare's other famous tale of a ``star-cross'd'' couple. It's not for purists. But if you're a more broadminded about your Shakespeare, this is just the ticket. Set in 1980s Verona. Motorbikes, teenager-filled piazzas, and rock music help set the mood. Shakespeare's words work amazingly well in this setting: Juliet becomes the daughter of a corporate daddy and a socialite mummy. Romeo is a good kid with a bad case of ``first love'' who doesn't take much notice of the pranks around him - until he's drawn into gang warfare between a sports-car-driving Capulet and his biker cousin from the opposing mob, the Montagues. The only drawback is a weak Juliet. Call the Barbican for days and times. Tel. (01) 628-8795/8891. Kiss Me Kate: Determined to make a boom year for itself, the RSC is restaging this rousing Cole Porter musical at the Old Vic. It seems odd to call ``Kate'' an RSC show when, apart from director Adrian Noble, only two members of the cast have appeared in previous RSC shows. But that's what the RSC is increasingly doing. Former British pop star Paul Jones plays Fred Graham, the head of a drama troupe performing ``The Taming of the Shrew,'' while Nichola McAuliffe plays his former wife and perennial shrew. The two leads could be stronger, but the players, all told, make a competent ensemble. There are no reservations about the exciting musical staging and choreography arranged by Broadway choreographer Ron Field. And American dancer Tim Flavin is a joy to watch. Tel. (01) 928-7616. An Inspector Calls: Written 40 years ago by J.B. Priestley, this well-crafted psychological drama gets a sterling revival at the Westminster. Set just before World War I, a wealthy family is in mid-celebration of the daughter's engagement to the son of an industrial competitor. Then the inspector calls. A poor working girl has just committed suicide; it gradually unfolds that there's some connection between her death and everyone in the room. When the inspector leaves, it is revealed that he was an impostor - or was he? In this parable of 20th-century Britain, each character is symbolically to blame, through his or her superficial and self-serving view of life, for the depredations that have made British society what it is today. Virtually faultless acting and direction throughout. Tel (01) 834-0283/4. Up on the Roof: It's nice to see a brand-new production make the grade. The show opens in 1975 at a university students' dormitory during a last year, end-of-finals party. Five students are up on the roof, where they have met throughout their university days to sing their own version of 1970s pop songs. Now it's time to disband. But they make a pact to meet in 10 years. A thought-provoking, funny, story about that curious decade of individual development between 20 and 30 years old. I had no idea 1970s pop songs could sound so good! It's all done with amazing five-part harmonies - no amplification, no band. When I saw it, everyone came out singing. At the Apollo. Tel. (01) 437 2663.

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