Tag Archives: /CYMBELINE/




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    3 Meece Rating
Box Office 01789 403493
Until 17th December.


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CYMBELINE Wanamaker at Shakespeare’s Globe SE1


This is part of Dominic Dromgoole’s candlelit farewell to his tenure at the Globe: a set of late Shakespeare romances , and follows his own fine PERICLES the other week. This one is directed by Sam Yates, and with its geographical wandering, improbable happenings, and odd lumps of possibly-non- Shakespeare text it is even knottier. But in the end, a fine and satisfying knot, finished with a  neat bow.

The plot is borrowed from a mixture of Holinshed’s chronicles of ancient Britain, mixed up with the sexier bit of the Decameron. Some scholars have thought that by now Shakespeare (int 1611) was actually in a mood to parody his own earlier work: there are strands of Othello-esque misunderstanding and Leontes unreason, Learish kingship, a defiant daughter, lost children recovered, a murderous wife, a cross-dressed innocent, a wrong corpse and confusion over an apothecary’s sleeping-draughts. In fact, it is hard to find an earlier Shakespeare play which does not somewhere foreshadow it.

So in brief: King Cymbeline and his second wife (who is trouble) want his daughter Imogen (here Innogen, more correctly) to marry her loutish stepbrother Cloten (great nominative determinism, the innocent and the clodpoll) . He is the Queen’s son. Our heroine however has secretly married Posthumus, who is lower born but decent. Until he isn’t decent at all , because when he is banished the Iago figure, Iachomo, tries to seduce Innogen and then pretend he has, and Posthumus falls for it, just about credibly. Meanwhile there are two missing princes, raised as rustic huntsmen., and a row with the Romans about tribute.

Of all the ‘romance’ plays this one requires the steadiest directorial nerve in turning on a sixpence from comedy to horror, tragic loss to ludicrous absurdity and back again. Yates holds it together beautifully. Not least because at its heart is Emily Barber as Innogen: graduated only last year and a real find. She is gloriously at home with the verse: can with equal naturalness rant it, prattle it, argue in it , weep or yawn to sleep it, all with proper enchantment. Moreover, she makes an adorable crop-haired boy when she is on the run; not least in the rough-and-tumble, deeply endearing reunion with the brigandish lads who turn out to be her long-lost brothers. Her affronted line that the life of a man is tedious, what with sleeping on the ground, brought the house down.
Jonjo O’Neill is her beloved Posthumus, Eugene O’Hare a sneaky Iachimo (who is, unusually, actually rather credible when he finally repents) But they’re all a delight, playing the emotions and the absurdities with equal relish: notably Trevor Fox’s Pisanio, always the right-hand-man, and Brendan O’Hea as the gruff old Belarius who stole the boys. Joseph Marcell is a fine King, matched with a fabulously nasty Pauline McLynn giving the bad Queen the full Cruella de Vil treatment. Calum Callaghan as the clottish Cloten plays it Tim Nice-but-Dim, but gives the often undervalued character a real air of offence. He may be an aspiring rapist and a Mummy’s boy, but you see his point. .Callaghan also gets the honour of having been made a fully detailed and wholly convincing (if bloodless) decapitated head, waved in the face of the startled Pit audience.
And so finally with battle, smoke, clashing shields, and misapprehensions so entangled that they require Jupiter himself to descend “on a thunderbolt” from the very high painted roof (the programme suggests that it was the exciting new mechanism at the Blackfriars theatre which made Shakespeare do that stage direction). Jupiter in this case is female, briskly spoken, wearing a bedsheet toga, pompadour wig and what looks like a gold bra. McLynn again…

And all the joking, beheading, brawls, heart-deep grief and entanglement ends in a very deft treatment of the long final explanation-and-forgiveness scene. Which could be boring, but here, as every character throws in their shillingsworth of dramatic revelation and Marcell the King gawps at each one, Yates’ cast permit us (amid the moving embraces) to shake with gales of laughter. That’s the way to do it.
box office 0207 401 9919 in rep to 21 April
rating Four   4 Meece Rating

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