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Friday, 1 June 2012

Review: Cymbeline - a classical telling of a non-classical fairy tale

Geraint Wyn Davies as Cymbeline, with members of the cast.
Photo by David Hou
Cymbeline, by William Shakespeare

Directed by Antoni Cimolino; designed by Scott Penner and Carolyn M. Smith

The story: Once upon a time a king married a beautiful but evil queen who wanted her stepdaughter to marry her son so he could inherit the throne. But the son was a brute and the princess loved a poorer  man, whom she married in secret. When her father the king found out, he angrily banished the young man, and locked away the princess, but not before they swore undying love for each other. The evil queen then plotted to kill her, and a rogue Italian nobleman convinced her banished husband she was unfaithful. With a loyal servant the innocent princess escaped to the Welsh wilderness and encountered two young men - who were in fact her long lost brothers. She is reported dead, however, and her remorseful husband joins the invading Roman Army, hoping he will be killed. The many threads become too knotted for a mortal to untie, so the god Jupiter descends to make things right. They are all swept back to her father's court, where each thread is unravelled, much to the overwhelmed joy of the King, the princess, her husband, and the new-found princes.
Cymbeline might be Shakepseare's last play, it is seldom performed, it is certainly one of his least believable fairy-tale plots, and this production is likely to be Antoni Cimolino's calling card for his coming tenure as the new Artistic Director. It is a near perfect example of classic Stratford Shakespeare Festival - an excellent cast in the hands of a good director who understands how to use the unique space of the Tom Patterson Theatre.

In fact, it is like Mr. Cimolino has a checklist of what is needed:
1) Imogen (in this production, Innogen): the actress who plays this princess must be able to stand up for herself, think for herself, and find the humour in passing herself off as a boy. Can only be Cara Ricketts. Check. (Hope she isn't squeamish about headless bodies. Check.)
Cara Ricketts as Innogen.
Photo by David Hou.

2) Posthumous: actor must be leading-man material, able to be both blustery and illustrate a man so deeply in love it hurts. Must be able to deliver on the most romantic line in Shakespeare. Gotta get Graham Abbey back here. Check.
Graham Abbey as Posthumous.
Photo by David Hou.

3) Cymbeline: King being unknowingly slowly poisoned by evil queen; need someone who can demonstrate both rampant madness but able to switch on charming, giddy joy and warmth when reunited with the family he lost. Geraint Wyn Davies, of course. Check.

4) Pisanio: the loyal servant needs to be an actor with integrity who can convey the strength of his emotion from across the room when not centre stage. Must also not mind being thrown around a bit. Get me Brian Tree. Check.

5) Cloten: A psychopath, a brute of a guy. Need someone who can play dumb and cowardly for laughs but be scary in moments of lucidity. Where's Mike Shara? Check.
Mike Shaara as Cloten.
Photo by David Hou.

6) Iachimo: a devilish villain, smooth and cool, easily tempted, might be a sociopath. But - must be able to show genuine regret for his role in besmirching Innogen. Must also fit in a box. Tom McCamus would be great, if we can reign him in from becoming that character from Dangerous Liaisons again. Check? Well, almost.

Tom McCamus as Iachimo.
Photo by David Hou.
7) Belarius: Guy so bitter from being accused of treachery that he kidnaps two princes, but must show true fear and grief at the possibility of giving them up. Should have a really resonant voice for some rich and sardonic lines. Call in John Vickery. Check.

8) A fairy tale needs music with a magical touch. Wonder if Stephen Page can compose with Celtic pipes? Check.

9) That Jupiter scene is almost too silly for words. Gonna need to go straight for the wow factor or audience will never buy it. Do we still have Ariel's wings from Plummer's Tempest? How about adding some smoke, lightening and a glowing set of red eyes? Check, check and check.  Ooh, like that red - must get Robert Thompson to use it again on the Roman Eagle. Check.

10) Set - no sight lines obscured? Check. Lavish-looking but easily moved props? Check. Scene changes should move smoothly, maybe beginning before last scene exits, making use of the many entrances and exits available. Check.

With this checklist in hand, Mr. Cimolino has a formula for how things get done on Stratford's stages. It is never that simple, of course, and his production notes indicate the depth of his knowledge of the plays subtleties. While his focus on the dream-like qualities and themes of this difficult play provide a frame for its (un)believability, the nuances Mr. Cimolino and his team bring out in the production create a breath-taking theatrical experience.

Like there was ever any doubt.

Cymbeline continues in repertory at the Tom Patterson Theatre until September 30, 2012.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, and the battle scenes are done at full-speed, very exciting. Well done, fight director Todd Campbell.


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