Review, Antony And Cleopatra, York Shakespeare Project, John Cooper Studio, 41 Monkgate, York, until Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

DEBUTANT York Shakespeare Project director Leo Doulton notes that “Antony And Cleopatra is an iconic play, and yet it’s performed incredibly rarely”.

In York, only one performance comes to mind: Paterson Joseph, Niamh Cusack and panto villain David Leonard were among a cast of 13 at the Theatre Royal in February 2015, and even that was a rehearsed reading, rather than a full-scale production.

Step forward York Shakespeare Project, in year 19 of its 20-year mission to perform all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays, ticking off A&C late in the day on its marathon list.

The Lord Mayor of York and YSP stalwart, Cllr Janet Looker, has nominated the community project as one of her charities this year to help raise funds for the 2020 final flourish of Macbeth and The Tempest. Those funds could facilitate productions on a grander scale than Doulton’s minimalist Antony And Cleopatra.

Whereas Joseph L Mankiewicz’s epic 1963 film, Cleopatra, starring lovebirds Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, was the most expensive movie ever made at the time, Doulton strips back the black-box John Cooper Studio to bare walls and a central raised platform with a map of the Roman Empire spread across the top.

This is the War Room for the battlefield of love and war, private passion and public duty, personal feelings and high politics, as “the triple pillar of the world” is “transformed into a strumpet’s fool”. Occasionally the map is studied, sometimes the lines of army movements or Roman control re-positioned; more often the map is bestrode by its protagonists; the map markers kicked off like beer mats in the fever or fervour of the moment.

In Doulton’s vision, The War Room now spans the ages, Rather than trying to create “Shakespeare’s imaginary Egypt”, or transplanting the clash of empires to another era, he and costume designer Bronte Hobson place the play in a “timeless space”, although knives and swords are still the weapons of choice.

Karen Millar’s brusque Octavius Caesar is dressed in chic designs of today; Elizabeth Elsworth’s regal, calculating Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra, is more in the Elizabeth Taylor movie mode. Jim Paterson’s Mark Antony, strong and decisive in military strategy, weak in Cleopatra’s manipulative arms, is the classic general.

Amanda Dales’s Pompey plays the blue-suited dandy spiv; Maurice Crichton’s Northern Irish Enobarbus, the cynical, free-speaking narrator and Antony’s most devoted friend, has something of La Cage Aux Folles about him, with his nocturnal wig and love of silks, beneath the Resistance fighter front in beret and black.

Crichton’s performance is by far the best and the most intriguing too, offering a new insight into Enobarbus. Elsworth is blessed with lovely diction, her Cleopatra peaking in her closing scenes. The chemistry for “the greatest love story ever told” does not spark, however, Paterson’s conflicted Antony being better in war than love.

Charles Hutchinson