Performed alongside King Lear this summer as some kind of “Ancient Britain” mini season, this rarely performed work, directed by Melly Still, seems highly appropriate as it looks at Britain’s identity and level of independence – while outside the theatre the Brexit debate rages on. Interestingly, this is the second production of Cymbeline I’ve seen this year and there’s another scheduled for later in the season at the Globe.
This production has made Cymbeline a woman (Gillian Bevan), an interesting move although I’m not convinced they really made the most of it. Her daughter Innogen (Bethan Cullinane) is in trouble for marrying the orphaned Posthumus (Hiran Abeysekera) in secret, and is distraught when he is exiled, but Posthumus ends up being dragged into a wager on Innogen’s chastity, a wager which Iachimo (Oliver Johnstone) tricks him into thinking he has lost. There was an amusing moment when somebody’s mobile phone went off just as Iachimo, secretly installed in Innogen’s chamber, began to sneak up on her: he hushed wildly and sank to the floor.
I’ve said before that events in Cymbeline happen so wildly and unexpectedly that it has a fairytale quality to it. That aspect of the play wasn’t quite brought out here, although the choice to translate some of Shakespeare’s lines into Italian (showing the English subtitles at the back of the stage) served to emphasise the division and separateness of Britain from the rest of Europe. Sound familiar?
I enjoyed this production: it was generally clear and aided my understanding of this extremely complex plot. Even the characters themselves aren’t immune from the realisation that the sheer number of coincidences and weighty explanations needed are somewhat bizarre. It’s an unusual play, and this production serves it well.