LUKE JONES CONTEMPLATES THE RSC’S ANCIENT BRITONS
The first impression of this RSC import to London is messiness. The staging; nipped and tucked from the RSC thrust to the Barbican widescreen. The performances; broad and occasionally unwieldy. The design; confused, clunky and distracting.
Now let me row back slightly. At the centre of this Cymbeline are three gripping performances. Imogen (Bethan Cullinane) separated from her husband is a beautifully real portrait of a miserably toyed with woman. Her scenes with Iachimo (Oliver Johnstone), where he stalks and surveys her bedroom are full of grim thrills. His is a near-perfect performance of the original dickhead. His smarmy charm is joyous is wittily used. A peg down from the other two, Imogen’s banished husband Posthumus Leonartus. Hiran Abeysekera gives an excellent turn, but I fear the wrong one. He is slightly wet where he should be furious. But between them, these three bat around the best scenes with youthful vigour.
The rest smells a bit panto. My instinct is to blame the director, Melly Still. She draws out all the thigh-slapping, jaunty walks, knowing delivery and twists to the audience. But this tires quickly and the meat of Cymbeline is left largely untouched. In fact, when juicy revelations are revealed and characters emotionally reunited, we weren’t in any way prepared for something moving. So it just moved on.
Cymbeline himself (or herself in this production with Gillian Bevan) picks an expression a scene and sticks to it. Shouty Cymbeline, flouncy Cymbeline, sad Cymbeline. The Duke (James Clyde) and his son Cloten (Marcus Griffiths) are equally as broad. I should stress these are no bad performances, they just feel a little standard issue RSC. Laughs were had, lines made sense and the 3 hours (three whole hours) whizzed by nicely. But I couldn’t help my eyes glaze and droop slightly, like a Stratford schoolboy promised that this will be an educational revelation.
All this isn’t helped by the design. What should help explain, muddies. I understand the attempt to make the English and the Welsh, earthy, root-ravaged grass people and the Italians Dolce Vita types wearing tight trousers and living the life of Aperol. But it looked dreadful and often got in the way. Two giant half-cylinders, ostensibly part of the set, span around, clunked and creaked to no effect.
If you are a passing visitor, after the Shakespeare experience, wander to the Box Office for a solid experience. But if you’re after something a little more nourishing, a little fresher… look elsewhere.
Rating 3 Mice
Box Office 01789 403493
Until 17th December.