Those “traditionalists” who like their Shakespeare Jacobethan and think the Globe should be entirely “original practices” should probably avoid this take on Cymbeline, which has been renamed Imogen (or Innogen as the Globe’s recent more conventional Wanamaker Theatre production called her) because she is really the central character.
Director Matthew Dunster and designer Jon Bausor have installed a full theatre rig and hidden the Globe’s Elizabethan scena behind plastic hangings.
There are cuts, including a sequence of apparitions and the intervention of the god Jupiter, a couple of male characters are now female but there is no tinkering with the plot of separated spouses, a bet on chastity won by subterfuge and abducted princes (though one of them, Arviragus, movingly played by William Grint, is now made mute, his lines replaced by looks and signing).
Cymbeline is still called King and his conflict is with the Romans, but he is now a 21st century drug baron and Caesar his underworld overlord. Borrowing from Elizabethan practice, things start off with a dumbshow exposition not of the plot but what leads up to it. To a soundtrack of grime and Skepta, Cymbeline’s track-suited court and minions cut coke with huge blades as Cymbeline exiles his son-in-law and imprisons his daughter for having married against his wishes. It kicks off a production that is high-energy and violent.
Jonathan McGuiness gives Cymbeline a mix of fierce impulsiveness and cold cruelty. He’s under his Queen’s thumb; she’s the villain, an evil stepmother pretending affection. Claire-Louise Cordwell eschews caricature, makes her a real woman and in their terms she and Cymbeline make a good team.
You can see why Imogen fell for exiled Posthumus: Ira Mandela Siobhan makes him good-looking and passionate but impulsive, acting without thinking. His would-be replacement, the Queen’s son Cloten, is no ogre but a spoilt bully. Joshua Lacey gives him a cocky swagger as he struts around surrounded by sycophant supporters.
Martin Marquez gives wronged Belarius, kidnapper of the royal princes, honesty and natural authority and with Scott Karim as Guiderius his other adopted son there is real warmth between this “family”.
Imogen is Maddy Hill (familiar to many from Eastenders). She’s not so streetwise as those around her. It has been a protected childhood: she probably only met Posthumus because they grew up together. It doesn’t really seem her play until she is disguised as male Fidele when she seems to get a boost in confidence.
A little over-emphasis on caesuras excepted, the verse is well-spoken, amplification overcoming any problems in projection in this large space for those company members not from classic theatre backgrounds. Those familiar with the play will find the brothers’ funeral dirge may be truncated, but this is all part of the director’s concentration on its violence.
While its streetwise hoodies match the plot in one respect the production is decidedly quirky. Some of the setting: Belarius’s greenhouse and Imogen’s bed are suspended and the battle between Britons and Romans takes to the air too. It's a muddle—so are most modern battles, but the similarity of costume makes it difficult to see who is being a hero. What purpose is it serving except in offering something different? But it looks like a lot of effort for a limited effect.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton