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posted/updated: 03 Oct 2011 -
Cymbeline
William Shakespeare
society/company: Shakespeare at the George
performance date: 22 Jun 2010
venue: The George Hotel, Huntingdon
reviewer/s: Raymond Langford Jones (Sardines review)


Cymbeline is often reckoned one of the Bards B-list plays, with characters and plot threads that seem to have been recycled with from his other works - but with less subtlety. Also, the original version is a rambling affair which directors down the centuries have tried to manage with varying degrees of success. The triumph of this production is the way a strong team of actors and designers have pounced on it so enthusiastically and run with Michael G Williamsons masterly adaptation, telling the story with lucidity and energy. It is one of the best Shakespearean open-air productions I have ever seen.
Each scene flows seamlessly into the next, and, supported by informative programme notes and great story-telling from the off, we are never in doubt about who is who and where we are. This clarity is greatly helped by the excellent use of an uncluttered set with its central exit leading out into the beautifully painted forest, adding a good depth and perspective to each stage picture, along with imaginative, well-executed costumes and head pieces. Good use is made of colour coordination too - notably the heather, woad-blue and dull metallic hues of the Cambrians Saxon style garments, contrasting effectively with the brilliant red colonial uniforms of their sophisticated Roman conquerors. This works well when the Italians revert to type in the battle scenes and don full Ben Hur armour! My only quibble is the costume of The Gentleman, an otherwise pleasing performance by Les Roberts as the Everyman/Observer figure: I was not clear what he was meant to be - a football supporter, perhaps?

Certainly, historical accuracy is not the concern of this play; its simply a good yarn. And like Marianne Elliotts production of Alls Well that Ends Well at the National last year, this one is envisaged as a romantic fairy-tale and works well thanks to the high calibre of the acting and exemplary production values throughout. These also include the atmospheric sound design (Adrian Wadey) pleasing original music (Roy Bellass supported by his capable musicians), excellent lighting (Edward Hopkins) and clever, sometimes witty, but never-intrusive costumes (Jo Fradley and her team). The secret of a good production is the sense that it has been a labour of love, and this comes over in the attention paid to detail - from pronunciation to props.

If I had to be picky about the acting, it is that the baddies - all gifted and experienced performers - might remember that even Disneys evil characters, from Snow Whites stepmother to the ghastly Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, are quite chilling - as indeed, all good Abanazers and King Rats should be in panto. And whilst I wouldnt want to be a dalmatian within miles of Queen Ignoge (Stephanie Hamer), it might have helped the heroes if she and Iachimo (Rob Barton) and Cloten (Neal Dench) had been just a touch more Bond villainy. Its easier to win the audiences sympathy if the enemy is really vicious! Otherwise, excellent, well-considered characterisations.

As it was, I felt that Innogen initially had her work cut out. Not that Giovanna Ryan does not pull out all the vocal and emotional stops, she was totally convincing and handled the poetry well, but it was not until the second act that the tomboy persona was allowed to emerge and I was really rooting for her. Alan Marston found gravitas and music in the worthy Posthumus - hopefully hell be able to smile more once he and Innogen are reconciled! Likewise Guy Marshall (Pisanio) comes across as the sort of friend youd really like to have in times of crisis.

Its rare in non-professional theatre, especially in an ambitious production such as this, to find such secure work from everyone involved. No one here is simply supporting cast. Paul Silvers Belarius is particularly endearing - a delightful performance; but I also wanted to see more of the well-meaning Cornelius (Mark Ullyett). Gallius (Tony Champion) and Caius Lucius (Mark Herbert) provide strong characterisations too, along with the brothers Guiderius (Thomas Herbert) and Arviragus (James Phillips) and Phil Cox a (Philario). Mention must also be made of the under-used Ladies and Courtesans (Paula Incledon-Webber, Stephanie Dickenson and Katie Gouskos) - I blame Shakespeare. Last but not least, theres Richard Fitt as the doddery, eponymous monarch; Derrick Scothern (Lord Chamberlain), Henry Martin (Cherin), Paul Gaskell (British Captain), Nicholas Cole (British Soldier) and John Durrant (Roman Soldier). It is a nice touch to have the young Arviragus and Guiderus (Luke Wilson, Jonathan Doyle/Jordan Marston) as part of the tale too.

A small point. On Thursday night, some attack and energy was lost in the middle of Act 2, which will no doubt be corrected as the run warms up. This was not helped, however, by the lack of pace and lack of extras in the battle scene. I felt sorry for the token soldiers who limped on bloodied and disorientated whilst the sounds off reminded us of hordes making pulp of each other a few yards away.

Nevertheless, a great production - one that will no doubt be remembered with affection by both the company and audiences for a long time to come!


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