Cymbeline has long been regarded as perhaps the most challenging of Shakespeare’s “problem plays”, a hodge-podge of plots thrown together without any consistency of tone or style – it’s almost like a series of sketches more than a coherent play. It’s normally best presented as comedy or fairy tale, but this gritty new production decides to dwell in the earthiness of the character’s relationships.
So, retitled Imogen and set in modern London is the play really “reclaimed” as the publicity suggests? Well… no, not really. Cymbeline may be the title character but it’s always been Imogen’s story in the same way Hal and Falstaff take centre stage in Henry IV. Matthew Dunster has edited the script as well as directing and despite some judicious pruning has failed to reduce the running time which still comes in at just under 3 hours including interval.
Nonetheless this is a tenacious, urban take on the piece that stands up well alongside the RSC’s underrated post-apocalyptic vision soon to appear at the Barbican Centre.
Maddy Hill, in the title role gives a powerful performance, fiery and resolute – much more grounded than the usual ethereal figure. For all that though she doesn’t quite seem to have found the core of the character and only truly comes into her own when disguised as a man in the Milford Haven scenes. The standout performances all seem to come in these scenes, most notably Martin Marquez’s stony faced but soft hearted Belarius who, along with William Grint and Scott Karim exudes a warmth and humility that makes them a truly believable family.
Emma Rice’s debut season at the helm of the Globe has seen sweeping changes, including the use of microphones for the first time, and this production shows why, for all this can make it easier for actors to vocally convey emotion, it can also be detrimental. All too often, shorn of the need to take care over diction, lines are rushed and delivered in such a way they become almost indecipherable. This is especially true of a number of the supporting characters but at times most everyone falls victim.
So is the play still a problem? Yes, the plot still weaves about and there’s still too much going on, but Dunster’s take certainly makes it more easily palatable for a modern audience.
Running until October 16th. For more information visit www.shakespearesglobe.com