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RSC, Stratford-upon-Avon


IN THIS creatively contemporary production of Cymbeline directed by Melly Still, the audience are exposed to two strong sides, each with a mission on their minds.

Cymbeline is a play about power and the need to have command at all times, no matter the risk.

The overall conviction of the story is well done, however it seems at times convoluted by the choices of the director.

It was hard to gauge the overall concept and I found myself having to use my imagination to understand the time and era in which this play is set.

The programme states that this is a Cymbeline set in Post-Brexit Britain, but this was not clear on stage. The earthy dystopian feel of the set felt like it was a world never seen before. The floor rose up during the performance to give way to comic scenes with Cymbeline’s estranged family, banished into the woods a long timecymbeline ago. It revealed the roots of a tree giving the impression of deserted lands where there are no rules.

The best part about this production was Gillian Bevan’s performance of Cymbeline. Bevan commanded every moment on stage and each line was delivered with a beautiful regal authority. Her big hair was certainly an addition to a strong stage presence and she did well to take charge of the stage, just as her character did with her kingdom.

A gender realignment sees Gillian Bevan in the role of Cymbeline, traditionally the King of Britain

There is a lot to take in with this play, having multiple characters and stories. It is a play that is not usually performed as it is deemed a classic ‘problem play’.

Cymbeline is also not the main protagonist. The story follows Cymbeline’s daughter, Innogen, following the relationship with her husband, Posthumus. After being banished for his lower class, Posthumus finds himself in Rome where he makes a wager with Iachimo, who believes that he can ‘win’ Innogen from Posthumus.

The overriding story is concise and well done, especially when the cast are strong. Oliver Johnstone is wonderful in the role of Iachimo and he gives the audience a full and trusting performance. On this particular evening, Innogen was played by understudy Temi Wilkey.

 In true Shakespearean style, and with a performance that lasts for three hours, there are subplots and countless characters who also make up the essence of the story. It was a shame that in some parts, the story was confusing due to unclear choices and moments that needed to be highlighted. It could be said that an audience member would have to know Cymbeline before seeing Still’s production.

There were effectively two sides which the characters fell into: the valiant Romans and the British. Both argued for what they believed was right. A fantastic addition was that characters would speak Italian during scenes set in Rome. This differentiated the groups brilliantly and showed great artistry to the importance of language. It was an interesting concept to hear and watch, especially with a Shakespearean translation. Subtitles were seen at the back on rotating flats that were also effective during quick scene changes.

Because this play has so much to tell, with multiple plot lines and characters who change their mind in an instant, the concept of the story and main themes must be established and understood for the audience to follow.

Unfortunately, in Still’s production, this was not totally achieved. The entire company showed great stage presence and acting was of no fault, which naturally helped us follow the story. It seemed that there was not a clear view of where moments of comedy and tragedy would take place. It was uncomfortable to see scenes with the upmost seriousness played for comic value, for example a potential rape scene between Innogen and Iachimo.

The choice of costumes also made the production hard to understand and did not determine a strong concept. This of course gave us a vague understanding of the overall message that Still wanted to achieve.

Overall, as one of Shakespeare’s lesser known play’s, Cymbeline has a strong central plot which is fully engrossing. The cast are strong and the effort is outstanding. The set is creative but does not link well to the concept, which is not clear from the start. With a total of thirty denouements, it is probably suggested to read about this particular production before watching it. To 15-10-16

Elizabeth Halpin



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