These table top Shakespeare’s are perfect for getting quickly acquainted with all the plays of the bard. Obviously a full production would be best, but for a clear summary, or for scripts whose performances are harder to come by, Forced Entertainment’s hour long narratives using household objects as characters are wonderful. I knew very little of Cymbeline beforehand, but now Terry O’Connor’s measured, matter-of-fact telling of the tale has fully enlightened me on the melodramatic drama.
Cymbeline is certainly not Shakespeare’s best play, but it is complex, with lots of twists, turns and falling in and out of love. This paring down of the show past multiple actors or the original text feels like it gives the central concepts enough room to not be dizzying in such a quick time. The theme for most of the signifying objects in Cymbeline is drinking glasses. A shapely glass goblet stands for Innogen, the innocent main character, while her faithful servant is a similarly shaped plastic cup. The signifiers are well chosen throughout, and definitely played for laughs at points. The strange apparition of Jupiter promising to make everything right is depicted with a can of “QuikFix”, and the ease with which the characters disguise themselves (they’re turned upside down) is pleasing. They are additional absurdities in a story full of bizarre happenstance and idiotic characters, and the lack of drama O’Connor recounts this with is refreshing. It keeps the story grounded to the household objects it’s signified with.
Her narration is a little bit of a mixed bag in the opening scenes of the show. The style of delivery is often in sharp faltering bursts that make the tale feel a little fractured rather than allowing the story to properly flow out. But O’Connor really paints the world well with as few strokes as possible, and draws genuine emotional reaction from the audience for the struggles of these glasses. I’ve never felt more disgust for a box of screws than when she described Cloten’s plan to win the hand of Innogen. O’Connor delights in telling us about the characters rather than the tale, which is wonderful because the plot is very messy. The drama is animated very effectively, if a little nervously, through her speech and measured puppetry.
Cymbeline is a completely mad tale even by Shakespeare’s standards, and O’Connor certainly knows this. She plainly enjoys pitching this soaplike world to the audience in as mundane a manner as possible, and it is thoroughly enjoyable for the audience as well.