Cymbeline**** (Drayton Theatre, 13 March 2013)

Posted: March 14, 2013 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

Neither tragic nor comic and only loosely a history play, this has become one of Shakespeare’s least performed works and it is more than a little surprising to find it above a pub with a cast of only five. The Pistachio Choice company has already staged Pericles and now turns to this as the second in its “lost and found” season, describing it as the Bard’s “most famous unknown play”. Set in what seems like a farm cottage, the production has a rural feel which suits the text. The plot concerns an ancient British King, Cymbeline whose daughter, Imogen has secretly married Posthumus, whilst his wicked Queen is plotting for her son by a former marriage, Cloten to accede to the throne. Tricked into believing that his wife has been unfaithful, Posthumus sets off for Wales, pursued by Imogen, and encounters Cymbeline’s two long lost sons. Similar to The Winter’s Tale, the play starts out as heavily dramatic but mellows considerably as it progresses. Inevitably each actor plays many roles, sometimes cross-dressing, using nothing more than changes of jackets, hats or accents to distinguish between them. With a plot that is more than a little convoluted, any struggle to recognise characters ought to have made the production utterly incomprehensible yet, strangely it has exactly the opposite effect and there is more clarity than might often have been achieved by a 30-strong company at, say, Stratford. There are even unexpected bonuses; when Imogen mistakes the dead body of Cloten for that of her missing husband, it is totally believable because both are played by the same actor. Once the audience has got over early problems with identification and embraced the actors’ swift character changes, it all becomes rather fun, to the point that an actor can be playing two characters in the same scene without impairing the impact of the drama. Very considerable acting skills are needed to pull all this off. Those responsible are: Ruth Rogers, Jerome Thompson, Caitlin Thorburn, Scott Wilson-Besgrove and Tim Wyatt. Shakespeare’s plays have survived for 400 years and are still providing entertainment and still proving relevant to modern life. This vibrant production exemplifies the benefits of re-imagining the plays and adapting them to new surroundings and lifestyles. They do not need to be seen only on the grandest stages with huge companies; pared down, as here, they are all about story-telling and glorious language, qualities that will be equally valued in another 400 years. At the end, Cymbeline looked rather a good play and it seemed curious that it should have become neglected. For Pistachio Choice, this is mission accomplished.

thepublicreview_hor_web copy

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