Cymbeline – Directed by Melly Still for Royal Shakespeare Company

I’m not quite sure where to start with this review.  Possibly to say this isn’t a production I enjoyed although it wasn’t so bad I wanted to leave at the interval as the lady in the next seat did.

Like pretty well everything about this production the staging was a mixed bag.  I really liked the towers at the back of the stage, which revolved to create different places.  I thought it was a good use of the space at the back of the stage and was effective.

I was much less convinced by the tree stump enclosed in glass.  I understand the symbolism of the tree being lopped of it’s branches but I thought it got in the way of the actors and action.  It was better when it rose up to reveal a pit/cave, although it did keep expecting an actor to topple over into it.

The actors! Hmm, where to start.  None of them were dreadful.  I’ve seen several of them in other productions. But…  My overwhelming impression of them is that the majority need to go and visit their voice coaches.  Their diction and projection was horrible; mumbled and indistinct.  They also gave the impression of mid-run boredom acting the characters rather than inhabiting them.  I know this sounds harsh but I go to the theatre to immerse myself and that didn’t happen with this production.

There were some bright spots:

At the beginning, when Posthumous is being banished, the attraction between him and Innogen was totally believable.  Like many relationships they had clearly got a bit bored of one another later on.

Natalie Simpson, who played Polydore/Guideria, had presence and was credible as the heir to the throne.  I will be interested to see her in King Lear later in the year.

I also thought Oliver Johnstone was a suitably treacherous Iachimo; plausible and attractive enough to gain the trust of both Posthumous and Innogen.

I liked the fact that the Italians spoke Italian, the French spoke French and diplomacy was carried out in Latin.  It could have been distracting having to read the translations projected onto the wall but it cleverly separated Britain from mainland Europe.

There was a lot of re-gendering of parts in this production; King Cymbeline becomes the queen, his wife becomes the duke, Polydor/Guiderius becomes Cymbelines daughter rather than son.  I thought this added to rather than detracted from the play as it made it less “blokey”.  The more traditionalists, as represented by my neighbour who left at the interval, declared it appalling.

Overall, I feel let down by this production.  I’m not sure how much of this is down to the play, which is a mishmash of narrative stands, and how much to the direction.  I’m not familiar enough with this play to disentangle the two elements.  But I won’t rush back to see the play again.  I may, however, go see the next play Melly Still directs to help me make my mind up about her.

My final, and lasting, thought is concern that we are taking some friends who are not regular theatre goers to see King Lear in a few weeks time – and most of this cast are in it!  I hope they have rediscovered their joie de vivre and their voices by then!


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