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Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

5.0Reviewer's rating

Gregory Doran has created a truly brilliant evening of theatre in his new production of Shakespeare’s romantic masterpiece, Cymbeline. There isn’t a line of this complex text that is not convincingly illuminated, not a line reading by any member of the cast that is not pertinent. The casting itself is impeccable, every character delineated with complete understanding of their motives and their moral position. This is a play in which true evil dissimulates goodness, as in the character of the queen; in which the good is lured into mistaken understanding that lead to evil, as with Posthumus. Doran’s production brings clarity to all he confusions and moral ambiguities of the story.  This beautifully crafted evening of theatre is visually, dramatically, emotionally and intellectually a complete realisation of the Shakespeare text.

Shakespeare was, by this time in his career, a man of such theatrical acuity that he was already playing with tropes and techniques that we now call Theatre of Alienation and Theatre of the Absurd with a hint of Magical Realism. He was also, through a story that is partly a legend, partly a folk tale and partly even, at times, a bit of a fairy tale, examining almost forensically issues of honour, patriotism, betrayal, revenge, lust and, of course, love in its real and false manifestations. This performance addresses fully all the issues of Cymbeline with leavenings of wit, captivating theatrical energy, outbursts of laughter and complete intellectual integrity.

Amber James conveys the complexity of emotion, integrity and courage at the core of the character of Imogen, as well as her preternatural ability to analyse and understand others except when hobbled by her totally convincing and all-embracing love for Postumus. Mark Hadfield is remarkably sympathetic as Postumus even when he is blinded by the villainy he encounters in the Iago-like Iachmo. The goodness of Pisanio is believably conveyed in a central performance by Ed Sayer. The mask of goodness donned by beautiful Alexandra Gilbreath as the Queen is convincing enough to fool the king, Cymbeline, while she is manipulating him (as well as the politics of the realm and the succession). However, she slips just enough early on in a soliloquy to arouse first suspicion and then, as we see her in action, horror. Jamie Wilkes is an oily yet plausibly attractive, inveigling and corrupt Iachmo. And, in the second half of the play, the family bonds of Christian Patterson’s Belarius/ Morgan, Scott Gutteridge’s Guiderius/Polydore and Daf Thomas’s Arviragus/Cadwal and their bluff good sense and humour give a lift to the story before the more complex and dangerous section and war that lead in the end to the startling scene of discovery and reconciliation that end the play. Conor Glean’s primary-coloured cartoonish Cloten is hilariously realised. Peter de Jersey traverses clearly and strongly the voyage from manipulated and drug-sodden chess piece under the control of his queen to his liberation from duplicity. Doran gives us many laughs in the evening that in no way undermine the seriousness of an innovative and astronishing drama.

The serviceable set and costumes by Stephen Brimson Lewis and the clever lighting by Matt Daw add a strongly memorable visual element; the music and puppetry are also high qualit elements that add to the overall impression. This is a rich, complex and layered production. This Cymbeline is an evening of theatre that I hope will become legendary, like the Peter Brook A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is a truly compelling and engaging presentation of this play.

  • Drama
  • By William Shakespeare
  • Director Gregory Doran
  • Producer Royal Shakespeare Company
  • Puppetry Rachel Leonard
  • Photo by Ellie Kurttz
  • Cast includes Peter de Jersey, Alexandra Gilbreath, Amber James,Ed Sayer, Conor Glean, Jake Mann, Mark Hadfield. Jamied Swilkes, Keith Osborn. Christian Patterson, Sctt Gutteridge, Daf Thomas
  • Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
  • Until 27 May 2023
  • Running time: 3hrs 15 mins. Part 1: 1 hr 15 mins (15 mins interval) Part 2: 55 mins (5 mins pause) Part 3: 45 mins

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

Canadian-born Mel Cooper first came to the UK to study English Literature at Oxford University and stayed. He was captivated by the culture and history of Britain, which he found to be a welcoming and tolerant country. After working in highly illustrated, non-fiction publishing for over a decade, he founded and edited the magazine Opera Now. Since then he has worked as a consultant to the Japanese broadcaster NHK, a broadcaster on British Satellite Broadcasting, a maker of audio shows and arts critic for several airlines, and as one of the team that started Britain’s first commercial classical music radio station, Classic FM, on which he was both a classical music DJ and creator and presenter of shows like Classic America and Authentic Performance. Throughout this period, he also lectured in music and literature in London and Oxford and published short stories in Canada. After working with the Genesis Foundation on helping to fund arts projects, he continues to write, review and lecture on music and literature. His first novel has just been published as an e-book. The title is City of Dreams. It is the first volume of a projected saga called The Dream Bearers. You can find the Kindle version of the book on Amazon.

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