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The third offering at the Stratford Festival’s opening week is William Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. He wrote the play late in his career in 1609 and the number of times the Festival has produced it since 1953 can be counted on one hand.
The current production directed by Esther Jun gives the play a feminist twist but otherwise takes it at face value. The costumes reflect ancient Britain and Rome in no particular way that I could discern, and the actors could be speaking the lines of a modern play.
In case the plot has slipped your memory here is a brief reminder. Cymbeline, a king in ancient Britain but a Queen in this production had a daughter Imogen by a previous marriage. Queen Cymbeline is now married to a Duke who had a son, Cloten, in a previous marriage. He wants Imogen to marry Cloten, but she has married Posthumus, a commoner of high standing, instead.
The Queen banishes Posthumus to Rome and Imogen rebuffs Cloten who wants to kill her. In the meantime, Posthumus makes a serious bet with the Roman Iachimo that no one can seduce his wife. Iachimo says he can and manages to get in her bedroom and get convincing but false evidence that he has done so. Posthumus orders his servant to kill Imogen. The servant does not, and Imogen runs off to the forest and leads us to the second serious complication in the plot.
In a cave she finds Belarius, Guiderius and Arviragus, and the latter two happen to be Cymbeline’s sons, missing since childhood. Cloten comes looking for Imogen and his head is chopped off. Imogen mistakes the headless body of Cloten for that of Posthumus as she comes to from the potion that the bad Duke gave her.
I have to shorten this. Posthumus fights for Britain and is arrested as a Roman. The missing sons are revealed, the nasty Duke dies, the good guys win, and they all live happily ever after because this is a tragicomedy. I hope that is perfectly confusing or I will tell you about the appearance of Jupiter and the visit by the ghosts of Posthumus’s ancestors.
The play has forty characters played by 23 actors, many of whom play two or three parts. Roles that may be played by men are done by women and it all works well.
The redoubtable Lucy Peacock, who exudes authority and acting talent plays Queen Cymbeline. Superb.
The central role of Imogen is played by Allison Edwards-Crewe, a demanding part that goes from a woman in love, to victim of grotesque false accusations of infidelity with a stranger, to hungry exile in the wilderness who begs for food from strangers. She faces the unbelievable horror of coming to from a potion that she took and finding herself by, what she thinks, is her husband’s beheaded body. Edwards-Crewe performs superbly in the kaleidoscope of parts.
The fiery Posthumus (Jordan Hall) has almost equally varied parts to play. He goes from ardent lover, to banished exile in Rome where he makes a (stupid) bet about his wife’s fidelity that sends him into murderous rage and he orders his servant Pisanio (Irene Poole) to kill her. When Britain and Rome go to war, he becomes of necessity a Roman soldier but disguises himself as peasant and fights bravely for Britain. Hall goes through all the phases of his character’s life and his character finally finds redemption and reconciliation.
Guiderius (Michael Wamara), Arviragus (Noah Beemer) and Belarius (Jonathan Goad) make an interesting trio. As I said, the first two are princes abducted by the wrongly banished third and are raised in a cave. The princes could be savages but they cannot be that for the purposes of the play. They show support and affection for their “brother,” Imogen disguised as Fidele. The three redeem themselves by fighting for Britain and are reconciled and regain their position. Well-done acting.
Rick Roberts is Queen Cymbeline’s husband who provokes a war with the Romans over payment of tributes. He is a nasty character and there is no redemption for him. He dies in the end clearing the path for virtue to triumph. Tyrone Savage as Iachimo is a smooth, arrogant Roman patrician who is sure of ability to seduce a woman. When Imogen does not fall for his charms, he stoops to fraudulent entry to her bedroom. Iachimo does admit his disgusting behavior and with contrition comes redemption. Fine performance by Roberts.
Cloten (Christopher Allen) is an interesting and obnoxious character. When rebuffed by Imogen, he decides to kill her. He is a worthless doofus who bounces around in his arrogance, but he is eventually beheaded by one of the princes and we are not sorry for him. Allen has a juicy role, and he does a great job with it.
Cymbeline with its many characters and numerous scene changes makes an ideal vehicle for the Tom Patterson stage. The 40 characters run in and out frequently at times attended by servants or officers. The large open space was ideal for the well-orchestrated battle scenes.
There is not much opportunity for sets in the Tom Patterson but Set and Lighting Designer Echo Zou did provide a huge tree trunk that had religious significance and dramatic lighting effects. Michelle Bohn’s costumes of long dresses and tunics suggested an era of yore without aping the clothes shown in American moves.
If Director Esther Jun had an overriding view of the play, I did not get it. She worked with the plot that she had and took us through the text very competently. It took a bit of adjusting to get the change of King Cymbeline into Queen Cymbeline and the consequent alterations in who does what but it was not a huge issue.
Cymbeline by William Shakespeare opened on May 29 and will run in repertory until September 28, 2024, at the Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford, Ontario.

Members of the company in Cymbeline, 2024. Photography by David Hou.

June 13, 2024
Cultural - Κριτική Καλών Τεχνών

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