The Hope Theatre is a tiny little performance space, barely noticeable from the street, tucked above a pub. Opened in November 2013, it aims to promote new writing while ensuring that all performers are paid at least a minimum wage. With space for no more than 25 audience members, it is the perfect location for a play such as Cleopatra where intimacy is pivotal to the show.

Written by Gareth Cadwallader, Cleopatra takes a somewhat voyeuristic approach to following the great Egyptian Pharaoh as she eagerly awaits for the Roman Senate to pass the required law to allow her to marry Julius Caesar, and passes the time seducing Caesar’s Head of Security Marc Antony.

There are some great strengths to this play and these come in the form of Shelley Lang as the petulant and erratic Queen and Richard Mason as the uptight Octavius  – or “Little Pus” – whose similarities to ‘Allo ‘Allo’s Herr Flick are somewhat uncanny. However, without doubt the strongest performance was given by Jordan Mallory Skinner whose serene, and yet somewhat sarcastic portrayal of Cleopatra’s political Secretary Mardian acted as the perfect foil to the chaos taking place onstage.

…a great job making the most of the limited space…

Director Mary Franklin also did a great job making the most of the limited space. Throughout the performance, characters acknowledged the presence of the audience, making it feel like we were part of Cleopatra’s household.

Indeed Cleopatra had the potential to be a good – maybe even great play. The dialogue was sharp and slick, the actors were – for the most part – talented and the transition between scenes was pretty much flawless. Unfortunately though, the way in which the writing characterizes the protagonist conflicts almost everything we know about one of history’s strongest and most formidable women.

…a desperate petulant spoilt brat…

Cleopatra as a historical figure is known to have been ruthless, determined and manipulate – if marrying and then murdering you brother doesn’t prove this, then what does? Cadawallader seems to glide over this aspect of her character in favour of portraying her more as a desperate petulant spoilt brat, just for the sake of the odd cheap laugh.  

Ultimately this becomes the downfall of Cleopatra. It is a fatal flaw which turns the play into an adequate and mildly humourous performance that leaves you slightly dissatisfied.

Arts_3 Stars3 Stars

Cleopatra is on at the Hope Theatre until 1 February. Tickets are £14 (£12 concessions) and can be purchased via their website.

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