Saturday, 30 January 2016

'Cymbeline' at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe

Some of the lovely things about the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, the little indoors theatre within The Globe is that it's small, it's covered in shiny wood and it's candle-lit. That makes for a great atmosphere, especially when it puts on unusual productions and that's where I saw 'Cymbeline' last week, a Shakespeare play that I've never seen live. I have now.

King Cymbeline's daughter Innogen has married Posthumus, the man she loves, rather than Cloten, the man Cymbeline's chosen (who just happens to be the son of his new wife). This is a bad thing so Posthumus has to flee the kingdom to live in Rome. While there he brags about his wife and her gentility and fidelity to him and generally, the superiority of British women. One of the young Romans, Iachimo (boo hiss) challenges Posthumus to a bet that he can seduce his wife and the foolish Briton accepts. The die is cast for tragedy aplenty, misunderstandings and international travel in the blink of an eye. So yes, Iachimo (boo hiss) meets Innogen and by trickery gets into her bed chamber while she sleeps and he's generally cad-like but Innogen's honour is intact. 

When Posthumus is gulled into believing Iachimo (boo hiss) he instructs his servant who is conveniently now working for Innogen to kill her but he can't do it. He tells Innogen the truth and she dresses as a boy to head off to Rome to see her beloved husband and put things right. And that's where the play starts branching out all over the place. Cymbeline had two sons who were stolen away as babies and we meet them as young men in the wilds of Cambria (ie Wales) with a banished general of Cymbeline's who they think is their father. Somehow Innogen meets her unknown brothers and becomes great friends when suddenly she seems to die and they go off to fight the Romans. They trash the Romans and save Cymbeline's kingdom and then come the big reveals. There are so many things to reveal that it goes on and on and nothing is straighforward. There's also a  great dream sequence in which Posthumus is visited by his dead family and by Jupiter ("sorry Jupiter!").

I won't go into the twists and turns of the plot bacause you should see it with an open mind - other than for Iachimo (boo hiss). This is a great, fun production that brings Shakespeare to life in a way that rarely happens. There's blood on that stage and boldness and fearlessness in a way not often seen. As I said immediately I was outside, that if that was the first play you'd ever seen you'd be hooked on Shakespeare and the theatre for life! Or you might run away and join a troupe of travelling players and perform it yourself. It's a mighty production that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible! 

Before the play began Trevor Fox (who seems to be the Globe's resildent Geordie actor) came on to mention that one of the actors had broken his foot the night before and because the Globe keeps it real and doesn't have understudies, he would attempt to play his part on crutches. But, we shouldn't be surprised if someone else comes on to read his lines from the script if he couldn't continue. He didn't say who the actor was or which role but it turned out to be Eugene O'Hare as the cad Iachimo (boo hiss) and he did very well indeed, making the audience wince every now and then, especially when he worked without his crutches in one scene. Well done Eugene - hope you're walking better by now! (but I still boo hiss Iachimo, obvs).

The star of the show for me was Emily Barber as a surprisingly modern Innogen, never meek or mild, but a strong central character (far more so than Cymbeline himself). I was very impressed with her, whether as princess or as a boy, her central character retained it's strength and power. Good on ya Emily!

I wasn't so sure about Jonjo O'Neill as her erstwhile husband Posthumus but that might have been because it looked like he was wearing jogging bottoms underneath his doublet. He seemed stronger to me in his British scenes with the Roman scenes being a bit stereotyped. I loved Pauline McLynn as the evil queen and stepmother with her asides to the audience - o yes, we're in on your plan all right queenie even if you've duped your husband and the court. I thought she was great fun.

I thought this was a great production that brought Shakespeare to life and makes you think he was having fun with this play - let's throw in every plot device imaginable and it still works! Now that's great writing and it's a great director that brings it all to life. Thank you Sam Yates. Yes, I loved it!

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