William Shakespeare
Royal Shakespeare Company
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

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Cat White as Helen, Conor Glean as Cloten, Marcia Lecky as Lady, Peter De Jersey as Cymbeline and Alexandra Gilbreath as The Queen Credit: Ellie Kurttz
Jamie Wilkes as Iachimo and Amber James as Imogen Credit: Ellie Kurttz
Conor Glean as Cloten Credit: Ellie Kurttz

It’s been around two decades since I last saw any Shakespeare (said in my best ‘old Rose from Titanic’ voice). In my defence, I spent most of my teens studying and watching it, so I had earned my hiatus. But, if ever there were to be a triumphant reintroduction to the Bard himself, then Cymbeline at the RSC in Stratford was a pleasant return to an old flame.

This production is Artistic Director Gregory Doran’s 50th for the RSC and it’s clear from the first word uttered that both he and his cast feel very much at home in the space. And, after a long absence, I too was immediately made to feel welcome—and a part of the action—as the actors made frequent (and wonderfully noisy) use of the walkways which delivered them from the back of the auditorium to the gorgeous stage.

Cymbeline is, of course, officially a tragedy—and a slightly clunky, maddeningly tangled one too. The tale of the King (Peter De Jersey) and his sole heir, the irrepressibly sassy Imogen (Amber James), as they navigate betrayal, wagers, jealousy and exile—not too dissimilar to some modern-day scandals, eh? But what I didn’t count on was laughing quite so much—the beautiful chaos of the power struggles delivered comedy such as that in the shape of macho man Cloten (Conor Glean) with his formidable flat top and deliciously excessive foot-stomping back and forth.

And, as we travel to Rome, we meet the silk dressing gown-clad lothario, Iachimo (Jamie Wilkes), who calls the blessed Imogen’s morals into question and sets a wager he’s determined to win. I didn’t want to find him sexy, but then, everyone loves a bad boy, don’t they? Besides, his entrance into Imogen’s bedchamber is comedy gold.

I adored the wicked Queen, played absolutely for laughs by Alexandra Gilbreath—a hearty compliment—and she gave the audience permission to be utterly devoid of sympathy when her plots unravelled and her precious son, Cloten, met his destiny.

Props also to the tormented soul, Posthumus (Ed Sayer), whose name is thankfully not prophetic but does suffer quite the rollercoaster from love to exile to loss, then back to love. He really earns it, poor lad.

Matt Daw’s lighting design is spectacular, his sun / moon a blinding backdrop which perfectly punctuates the action on stage, complemented by Stephen Brimson Lewis’s simple but effect stage design.

In all, it was truly a feast for the eyes and an unexpected opportunity to giggle. How lucky I feel to have exceptional theatre right on my doorstep. Thank you, RSC, for welcoming me back with open arms. I loved it.

Reviewer: Rachael Duggan

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