Wednesday, May 11, 2016

'Cymbeline' by William Shakespeare

11 May 2016

On Tuesday we were at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon to see Melly Still's new RSC production of 'Cymbeline'. I had only previously seen this rarely performed Shakespeare play once – in a 1993 touring production by Compass Theatre Company which I saw at Stamford Arts Centre. It's a peculiar, complex but very entertaining play: the final scene includes some 30 denouements which tend to baffle an audience unsure whether to cry, laugh or applaud each revelation. The RSC production was spectacular, moving and funny. Anna Fleischle's design places this tale of ancient Britain in a dystopian future of concrete and graffiti. In this production Cymbeline becomes a queen rather than a king, played with battle-hardened determination by Gillian Bevan. Many of the cast are also currently in Simon Godwin's production of Hamlet (reviewed here in April 2016). Hiran Abeysekera (Horatio) plays the flawed hero Posthumus Leonatus, but unusually for Shakespeare this play has a female lead. Innogen has the most lines and the greatest time on stage and Bethan Cullinane (Guildenstern) made her a compelling character – playful, tempestuous, distracted, brave and clever. There was great use of back projection, which allowed the scenes in Rome featuring a Dutchman, a Frenchman, a Spaniard and two Italians to be performed multi-lingually with surtitles. The interaction between Britain and Europe in 'Cymbeline' feels remarkably topical with its battle between the Britons and the imperial army of Rome. It's an odd work which contains many echoes of more famous Shakespeare plays but the RSC production is great fun.

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