Friday, January 29, 2016

CYMBELINE at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse - heads it's Imogen...

...tails it's Innogen.  Mind you, the head just might belong to the Prince who wants to rape you... although you might think that it belongs to your exiled husband (who has actually hired an assassin to kill you).  Yes, Constant Reader... CYMBELINE is the Shakespeare play where he threw *everything* into the plot!

I was glad to finally see this play, if only to cross it off my Shakepeare list - only TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA, TIMON OF ATHENS, HENRY VI trilogy, HENRY VIII and The TWO NOBLE KINSMEN to go!  All I really knew about the play was that Vanessa Redgrave had played the heroine in an RSC production in 1962 and that it's plot was a bit freewheeling - including a headless body.  It's very out there.

Because of this it has divided writers down the years: John Keats and William Hazlitt both admired it but in the last century Lytton Strachey and Harley Granville Barker disliked it, both citing that it showed a Shakespeare exhausting his talent.  You can see their point - at times you could almost see Shakespeare thinking "They like my comedies so I'll stick in some low comedy yokels" then "Oh and they love my nasty royals so I'll throw in a wicked Queen - oh and my fans love drag so I shall stick my heroine in men's clothes for a while etc etc."  It's like watching a 17th Century Jive Bunny 'doing' Shakespeare.

There's even uncertainty over the heroine!  Long held to be Imogen, it has also been contested that in the original performance she was actually Innogen which is what director Sam Yates has plumped for here.  And to be totally contrary - which I suspect is her raison d'etre - incoming Globe artistic director Emma Rice intends to stage a version later in the year retitled IMOGEN as she has more lines and is more of a central character than dreary old King CYMBELINE.  How very modern.

To be honest, the bewildering plotline did cause me to tune out a bit so when I regrouped and concentrated I had no idea what the multitude of characters were to each other and why they were doing what they did.  Thank God for the interval and a chance to read the synopsis.  But Yates' production hurtles through the plot - possibly as to linger on it for any length would be daft - and as usual, despite the inanity of the plot, I enjoyed the production and a few of the performances.  Sorry Lytton and Harley.

Emily Barber was a spirited and engaging Innogen, her performance even more impressive with the knowledge that she only graduated from drama school in 2014.  Calum Callaghan impressed too as the oafish Cloten who suffers one of Shakespeare's more bizarre deaths - all I am going to say is that the Globe Theatre is leading the field in well-modelled severed heads!  Pauline McGlynn was an interesting wicked Queen but Joseph Marcell was a bit milquetoast opposite her.  Jonjo O'Neill was a suitably confused Posthumus - one minute Shakespeare has him passionately in love with Innogen, the next believing that she is unfaithful and plotting to murder her.

Globe stalwart Trevor Fox delivered another eye-catching supporting performance as Innogen's Geordie servant and before the show started he stepped onstage to tell us that Eugene O'Hare, who was playing the nasty Iachimo, had broken his foot the night before but was still going on with 2 arm crutches - what a trouper!  It made for some particularly hairy moments - Iachimo hides in Innogen's bedroom in a large chest so watching him negotiate that with his crutches was real edge-of-the-seat stuff!

I would recommend it to anyone who has never seen it and wants to see it in the candle-lit surroundings of the Wanamaker Playhouse... just don't expect anything profound!

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