Cleopatra is a familiar cultural icon to us all whether our impressions are shaped by Shakespeare or Elizabeth Taylor. In this Northern Ballet production Artistic Director David Nixon, the current king of the narrative ballet, presents us with his take on Cleo, focusing on the sexual and political manoeuvring of a passionate woman who is trying to reconcile her own humanity with the role of god-queen.

Working on the dramatic elements of the performances with co-director Patricia Doyle, Nixon has put together a powerful creative team to deliver his vision. The musical score by Claude-Michel Schönberg, composer of Les Misérables, is performed by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia and his careful composition serves to enhance the action on stage. Equally Christopher Giles’s design is enhanced by the lighting of Tim Mitchell and clever projections created by Nina Dunn. These elements create a sublimely beautiful, high quality staging and the simplicity of the design is a creative solution to the challenging demands of a touring company.

The choreography draws upon a familiar visual vocabulary, echoing images from wall carvings, tableaux, often in profile and incorporating the feline movements associated with the animal so revered by the Egyptians and appropriately recognised as a symbol of grace and poise.

There are some wonderfully theatrical moments. The carpet unrolled before Caesar to reveal Cleopatra within and the clever characterisation of the snake as an Egyptian God, Wadjet, who observes the action throughout and also succumbs to Cleopatra’s power. The set projections transport us from ancient Egypt to the Royal barge on the Nile and onto Rome and are particularly powerful in the scene where Cleopatra has a premonition of the destruction ahead where the walls of the set appear to pour with blood.

The combination of the beautiful design, lighting and choreography are as seductive as the character of Cleopatra herself and in this production we witness a mesmerising performance from Martha Leebolt. Rarely off stage her stamina is phenomenal and she dances each step with passion and vigour. Dominating the stage she is so central to the production that the male characters feel a little undeveloped by comparison. Javier Torres as Caesar seems a little more stiff than his role demands at times and Tobias Batley as Mark Antony has an elegant, youthful quality which is at odds with the battle scarred warrior with whom we are familiar.

If there is one weakness it is that we hurtle through so much history at such a rate that there is little time and space to explore the psychodrama behind the action. Nevertheless this is undoubtedly a racy, pacey rollercoaster ride of a production. Cleopatra is a class act and it is a joy to see a new full length ballet with such audience appeal.