By William Shakespeare.
The Barbican Theatre, Silk Street, LondonEC2Y 8DS in repertory with King Lear to December 16.
Check days with box office.
Mon-Sat 7.15pm Mat Thu & Sat 1.30pm.
Runs 3.h3 30 mins One interval.
Review: William Russell 3 November
Throne of Queens and glorious confusions
Gender changes, and a change of period (not ancient Britain but some time in the future when water is scarce, trees have died and a Mad Max lurks round every corner, a dystopian world where the people wear garments made from cast off materials, and Italy, that is to say Rome, is the foe at the gates) supposedly give this long rambling play a contemporary significance.
Perhaps they do, but no more significance than the ravaging of the Wars of the Roses to create the plots of Game of Thrones has given that show. Melly Still’s lavish production, however, works wonderfully well, has a first rate cast led by Gillian Bevan as Queen Cymbeline, an indecisive ruler of Britain with a wilful daughter, Innogen, spiritedly done by Bethane Cullinane. She has married Posthumus, Hiram Abeysekera, of whom Cymbeline does not approve.
Gullible Posthumus falls victim to a plot by Iachimo, a dashing Roman lothario who fancies played by Oliver Johnstone, who fancies Innogen for himself in which her faithfulness is tested. The play is bursting with plot lines which get inextricably and sometimes inexplicable entangled until rather slowly unknotted in the closing scene and characters who seem to come and go for no good reason.
In the barren lands of Wales there is an ancient man with two feral children who turn out to be foundlings and into whose hands runaway Innogen duly falls. She is pursued by her stepfather’s ambitious son Cloten, Marcus Griffiths, swaggering extravagantly, who loses his head over her in more than one sense.
Directors and creators get inspired by all sorts of things which do not always quite come across to the audience. In this case the programme notes trying to relate the goings on to Britain today, or maybe the day after tomorrow, seem a little absurd – read Rachel Sylvester and cringe – but if one does not get whatever one was meant to get, the result is still a stirring, exciting evening which continually surprises, holds the interest and has fine performances to relish.
It would make a splendid TV series stuffed with the great and the good of the British stage strutting their stuff, which is probably where the original would have ended up had television been available to the Bard. It also boasts quite the best beheaded head ever. Usually they look like discards from Madame Tussauds, but this one looks like the real thing.
As for that happy ending, it does take a little while for all the plot strands to be unravelled and at times the bleeding obvious seems not have struck those involved, but we remain part of Europe as Cymbeline submits to the power of Rome in spite of having won the battle. The play actually gets performed quite a lot, probably because it is so rambling and contradictory that it presents directors with challenges galore. It has not been rescued from obscurity by Sills’ revamp and the sex changes, but the result is thoroughly satisfying even the bits that seems to fly in face of the text – this sterile new Britain as described by Shakespeare is actually quite flower filled whereas the set is rather ugly.
Cymbeline: Gillian Bevan.
Innogen: Bethane Cullinane.
Posthumus: Hiran Abeysekera.
Pisania: Kelly Williams.
The Duke: James Clyde.
Cloten: Marcus Griffiths.
First Lord: Romayne Andrews.
Second Lord: Theo Ogundipe.
Gentlewoman: Jenny Fennessy.
Philharmonia: Temi Wilkey.
Cornelia: Doreene Blackstock.
Messenger: Kevin N Golding.
Jailer: Jenny Fennesy.
British Officers: Marieme Diouf,Kevin N Golding.
Soldiers: Doreene Blackstock, Byron Mondahl.
Iachimo: Oliver Johnstone.
:hilario: Byron Mondahl.
Dutchman: Romayne Andrews.
Frenchman: Theo Ogundipe.
Spaniard: Eke Chukwu.
Roman Captain: Theo Ogundipe.
Belarius: Graham Turner.
Guideria: Natalie Simpson.
Arviragus: James Cooney.
Director: Melly Still.
Designer: Anna Fleschle.
Lighting Designer: Philip Gladwell.
Composer: Dave Price.
Sound Designer: Jonathan Ruddock.
Movement Director: Emily Mytton.
Fight Director: Terry King.
Video Designer: Dick Straker.