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Cymbeline

William Shakespeare
Wales Theatre Company
Grand Theatre, Swansea, and touring
(2004)

Wales Theatre Compabny poster for the Shakespeare Trilogy

You can imagine the scene. It's the artistic committee for the Globe Theatre. They are meeting in a smoke filled room trying out the tobacco just shipped in from the New World and quaffing real ale mixed with a cask of vino newly arrived from Italy.

The chairman speaks. "Listen Will. We need bums on seats. We gotta get the punters back again. How about somethin' Roman. Togas always look good. Okay, take it from there."

Will lifts his tired head off the table and gives out a few ideas. "How about Cymbeline?"

"Who's she?"

"It's a "he" my lord. A British king."

"Okay Will. Run with it. And write this down. I got a few ideas myself. I want to see a severed head and let's have a headless corpse dragged on. Cross-dressing always goes down well. Put that in. and for the love angle let's have a young couple newly married: she's a princess; he's a nobody, and let her have a devious stepmother who really wanted her, the stepdaughter, to marry her son"

"But ?"

"Hold on, Will. I'm on a roll here. Let this king have two sons who somehow have disappeared before the story begins. How about the nobody husband being banished to Rome and he gets in with a hot blooded, sex mad Roman who fancies his chances with the princess and so they have a bet that he will bed her, even though this nobody reckons she is chaste. Good, or what?"

"How long have I got?"

"We open next week."

I understand that other productions of Cymbeline have played it for laughs and I can see how that would work. It would be a mixture of a Whitehall farce, an Agatha Christie "Who Done It?" and scenes from the Hammer House of Horror. In other words, as others have said, a Hotch Potch.

First of all I feel indebted to this company for providing us with the opportunity of seeing this lesser known play.

Those who have read the play will know that the opening couple of pages reveals a scenario that is complex to say the least. However, all becomes clear after two or three readings. (I speak for myself): I was pleased to see that director Michael Bogdanov kindly eased the audience into the play by having a television newscaster explain it all. A brilliant idea and much appreciated.

So, it is established from the start that this is modern day. We see the Romans dressed in smart suits, sun glasses and straw hats .and we see the Britons dressed in strange exotic garb looking like a wandering tribe from east of Turkey. We accept this, because the costumes are colourful and well designed but they do leave a niggling doubt in my mind.

Then there is the magnificent battle scene with outstanding sound effects giving us a clear idea of what it must be like to live in a war torn country like Iraq. Very impressive, until we see the fight scenes being carried out with traditional swords and shields, which, I have to say, was very nicely choreographed.

This production was not played for laughs and there was no appearance of Jupiter. The biggest laugh was when the head of Cloten was carried in.

This by no means a great play. It is pure tongu- in-cheek entertainment and ideal for the crowds that would throng into London to watch the executions and bear baiting and who were looking for a spot of light relief.

I can see Will now, sitting with the King's Men on the stage of the Globe wetting themselves with laughter.

"But Will. We can't do this. You must be having a laugh."

"Exactly, my dear friend. Exactly!"

I congratulate the whole cast and crew for making an excellent fist of it. It would be churlish to pick out individual performers. This was a first class performance all round from a strong team.

Reviewer: Tony Layton