Cymbeline is one of Shakespeare’s rarely performed plays, and having now seen it I can understand why. I don’t mean that as a criticism of the production or the performances at all, just the writing itself.
There is a A LOT going on in this play! It almost feels as if Shakespeare was trying to include everything – a war, separated lovers, missing children, deceit, disguise… As such a summary of the play is vey difficult to write. There are some lovely moments in the play but it’s a shame that there are so many characters and so much happening. The scene towards the end of the play where everyone’s stories and truths are told and everything tied up felt a little slow – we as the audience know everything that needs to be revealed and as such it dragged a little, as we weren’t learning anything new, only the characters.
However, despite my disappointment with the play itself, this was a strong production that lived up to the high standards expected from the RSC. There were gender changes with some characters, including making Cymbeline a queen rather than a king, and one of the missing children a girl. As this was the first performance of Cymbeline I’d seen I can’t compare it with a ‘traditional’ version, but I felt a female Cymbeline worked very well. There were strong performances from all, especially Gillian Bevan as Cymbeline, James Clyde as the Duke, Bethan Cullinane as Innogen , Oliver Johnstone as Iachimo and Marcus Griffiths as Cloten. This is also the second Shakespeare production I’ve seen recently that used other languages at times (the other being Romeo & Juliet at the Garrick), with this performance using a little Latin, Italian and French, with subtitles projected. As a linguist I felt this was a nice touch, and a gentle reminder to the audience of the setting.
Not my favourite Shakespeare play, but as usual a strong RSC production and fantastic performances.