Theatre

Cymbeline @ Lyric Hammersmith, London



cast list
Hayley Carmichael
Carl Grose

directed by
Emma Rice
Cymbeline is often termed one of Shakespeare’s ‘problem’ plays. Which basically means it’s a pain in the arse to stage, comedy and tragedy lurching awkwardly into one another amidst an overly complex plot. If anyone could take it on and tame it, it would be Emma Rice’s Kneehigh theatre company; having successfully tackled the intricacies of Angela Carter in last year’s superb production of Nights At The Circus, they’re clearly not scared of a challenge.

Part pantomime, part musical, the results are a resounding success. Cymbeline as imagined by Rice and co is a thrilling and enchanting piece of theatre with a great deal of contemporary resonance and a great big heart.

In Carl Grose’s entertaining adaptation, Shakespeare’s words have been mostly brushed aside with only the mechanics of the plot retained. King Cymbeline sits in a drugged stupor, his children kidnapped, his wife dead, completely at the mercy of his manipulative new queen. His remaining daughter Imogen is in love with Posthumous, but the queen wants to cement her power by marrying Imogen off to her thuggish son, so Posthumous is duly banished to Italy.

What follows is the usual barrage of mistaken identities, misunderstandings and cross-gender disguises (Imogen spends a chunk of the play dressed up as a hoodie called Ian). As this is a Kneehigh production, the staging is superbly inventive, with much pleasure to be gleaned from the tiny, inspired details like the little remote controlled car that whizzes around the stage delivering the characters’ missives and the faceless hooded boys with their aerosol cans. Michael Vale’s set consists of a large metal cage, a flexible and striking structure that acts as both palace and prison to the numb and grieving Cymbeline.

Petit and endearing, Hayley Carmichael makes a superb Imogen, knitting the comic and romantic aspects of her character together with skill. Though she remains perky and upbeat throughout, this makes you root for her and her happiness all the more. In addition to penning this adaptation, Grose makes a loveable Posthumous and Mike Shepherd has a quiet gravitas as the lost king.

With its hairy-legged prostitutes and genital-centric innuendo, it might all be a bit crude for some, and at nearly three hours it goes on a little too long; the battle scenes are a bombardment of light and noise that becomes rather tiresome after a while and the second half as a whole lacks the momentum of the play’s dazzling earlier scenes.

But, as in Nights At the Circus, it’s Kneehigh’s creative energy and visual flair that makes the biggest and longest lasting mark, their complete understanding of all theatre is capable of. From the fairylights that bedeck Imogen’s bed to the gambolling deer that is sacrificed so that Imogen might live, no opportunity to is wasted to capture the imagination. This Cynmbeline is a wonderful thing and you’ll leave the theatre feeling moved, amused and elated.



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