William Shakespeare’s Cymbeline Renamed & Reclaime
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Matthew Dunster
Designed by Jon Bausor
Shakespeare’s Globe, Southwark, London
Sunday 25th September 2016, matinee
Maddy Hill – Imogen, daughter of Cymbeline
Jonathan McGuinness – Cymbeline, King of Britain
Claire Louise Cordwell – Queen, stepmother to Imogen
Joshua Lacey – Cloten, son of the Queen, step-brother to Imogen
Ira Mandela Siobhan – Posthumus, Imogen’s husband
Leila Ayad – Pisania, servant to Posthumus
Okorie Chukwu – Carvillus
Sapphire Joy- Helen / Ensemble
Matthew Needham – Giachimo, an Italian nobleman
Malik-Sankara Mosiah Watson – Caius Lucius, Roman general
Erica Kouassi – Philaria
Kai Spellman – Flavien / ensemble
Martin Marquez – Belarius, banished 20 years ago
Scott Karim – Guiderius, lost son of Cymbeline,
William Grint – Arviragus, lost son of Cymbeline
Because I’m going to make a few early background points with a touch of criticism, I’ll start by saying that overall we loved this production unequivocally.
It’s odd. If you were studying English, or at Drama School during the last few years and keen on seeing Shakespeare, King John and Cymbeline would rank as major parts of the canon. When I was a student, both were right off the radar. This is the second Globe Cymbeline in a year when the RSC has also done a major production, which will move to the Barbican in London as this ends.
At the Wanamaker Playhouse earlier this year, it was titled Cymbeline. Here, in deference to Imogen being the lead role with twice as many lines as her dad, Cymbeline, the play title is changed to Imogen. That’s not without precedent. What Shakespeare knew as The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York is now known as Henry VI- Part III. The Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2016 production also went for a PC feminism, but they made King Cymbeline into Queen Cymbeline. Here Pisanio becomes Pisania, and Philario becomes Philaria. A little RSC / Globe rivalry showed in the RSC’s programme note that INNOGEN was not a misspelling, but correct. I loved that this version responds with its first three lines:
CARVILIUS: No – Imogen. Immmm … Imogen.
The director says that he not only cut and adapted the text, but occasionally found modern alternative words while maintaining the original pulse and rhythm of the text. I have no problem with doing this Adapting, modernizing and simplifying text for foreign learners is often my day job, after all. It’s the hoist with his own petard issue where lines have to be explained. Then the footnote admits that the given meaning is speculation anyway, because it might be a misprint in The First Folio. To me it was done in Imogen with subtlety. It still sounds like Shakespeare. But …
Spot the differences …
There is a separate play script on sale at The Globe: Imogen: William Shakespeare’s CYMBELINE Renamed and Reclaimed by Matthew Dunster. The spine reads DUNSTER / SHAKESPEARE. The top of every verso page reads Matthew Dunster / William Shakespeare. Oh, dear. If you use alphabetical order, it implies an equal contribution. It should read Shakespeare / Dunster to indicate The Bard’s original precedence and greater share. After all, we booked to see it because it’s a Shakespeare play at Shakespeare’s Globe (as it is called). I don’t recall the advance publicity saying “Imogen by Matthew Dunster.”
I speak from experience. I’m as partial to a credit as any author. I have a published English Language Teaching version of Much Ado About Nothing (Garnet Oracle Classics). I had to simplify and modernize the entire text to lower intermediate level and cut massively, and I kept it as a play in dialogue. It says “By William Shakespeare” on the cover, and merely “Retold by Peter Viney” on the inside title page. No spine credit. No running credit. It reminded me of Dedication: Shakespeare & Southampton at The Nuffield last week where the director’s name came above the writer on their website. In Mr Dunster’s defence , I know that second named authors have difficulty in getting paid for subsidiary rights like photocopying and use as exam extracts. And no one;s paying William.
The Globe sent out this warning (or rather advert):
This show contains everything you could possibly need to be warned against!
STRONG LANGUAGE including: Loud music and explicit lyrics
DRUGS including: Marijuana smoking and cocaine snorting
VIOLENCE including: Gun fights, blood and torture
NUDITY including: Sexiness and a bit of nudity
SPECIAL EFFECTS including: Strobe lighting, theatrical smoke and the possibility of being splattered
The original play uses the word “Britain” many more times than the rest of the canon put together. This was following James VI of Scotland’s accession to the throne. As this version is so clearly set in “England” I’ll use that in the following.
The start is first rate at explaining the vital backstory completely visually. We see the three children of Cymbeline in white underwear (played by the adults) with balloons. The two boys, Guiderius and Arviragus are kidnapped violently, leaving Imogen behind. Cymbeline remarries.
The queen (Claire Louise Cordwell) and Cymbeline (Jonathan McGuinness): “Away!”
There’s a “hard” concept (rather than a vague one). This is East London gangland, 2016. Cymbeline is a drugs baron (do they still say that?) supervising a large cocaine processing operation. He’s a hard scrawny little bastard with a tattooed neck. His second wife, the queen is a tarty blonde, as tough as him. Her son, Cloten, has dyed blonde hair, and a cock-of-the-walk stage swagger to offset his red England “Away” fooball shirt. He has the habit of thrusting his hands down the front of his tracksuit bottoms as well and checking that the wedding tackle is still in order. The whole gang have East End accents (don’t worry, there’s no rhyming slang) and are clad in black sportswear and hoodies.
The gang arrive: Imogen (Maddy Hill) and Posthumous (Ira Mandela Siobhan) centre
Imogen (Maddy Hill) has fallen in love with Posthumous, son of a Roman, who was brought up with her. They secretly marry. Posthumous has a dark blue tracksuit, not being one of the gang. Cymbeline finds out about the romance, and Posthumous is banished. The clothes symbolism is followed tightly – both the lovers are dressed in grey tracksuits then. There’s a lot of being dressed and undressed, but colour coding adds to clarity. There’s a lovely rewritten scene where the Queen warns Posthumous off … she wants Imogen to marry Cloten.
Imogen and Posthumus get romantic. Cloten (Joshua Lacey) watches
When Posthumous returns to Rome, the chairs are gold, everyone is dressed in dazzling white sportsgear. We know. Romans white gear. English black gear. Blue is the “change” colour … Posthumous’s clothes need to stand out because Cloten will later disguise himself in Posthumous’ clothes in an attempt to rape his stepsister. Yes, Cloten’s really thick, and a marvellous comic turn from Joshua Lacey every time he appears.
In Rome, Posthumous meets Giacomo (Iachimo in other versions), and Giacimo boasts that he can seduce the faithful Imogen. Giacomo travels to England. The most memorable scene in Cymbeline is where he hides himself in a trunk in her bedroom so that he can win his bet by finding details of the room … he steals her bracelet from her sleeping wrist, and peeps under the covers to note a mole on her breast. This is done so well here. The bed is hoisted to 45 degrees angled to the audience. Imogen slips off her top under the covers before going to sleep and hands it to Pisania … switching Pisania to female actually works better than the original, where the servant is male, Pisanio. Matthew Needham’s Giacomo is as seedily pervy as you could wish in leering at her under the duvet, and emerges from a modern soft suitcase … and not a very big one either. And he’s a tall guy.
So, Posthumous rejects Imogen. She decides to go to Milford Haven to meet him when he arrives with the invading Roman army. The English have decided to stop paying tribute … I would have brought in a Mafia reference and switched Rome to Sicily, but OK, they didn’t. Imogen gets dressed as a boy, as you tend to do if you’re a Shakespearean heroine, in a blue tracksuit.
Imogen (Maddy Hill) disguised as Fidelio
The plot thickens fast. The Queen has given Pisania a drug, telling her it’s a kind of tonic (Sanatogen sort of thing). It’s actually poison, or so the Queen thinks. But the cunning doctor has switched it for a sleeping draught (a “Juliet” drug then). Cloten has got Posthumous’s spare track suit and decides to follow Imogen and have his wicked way with her.
In Wales, we meet Belarius & Sons. Rap sounds were used for the London gangland soundtrack, and that gang are into processing and consuming cocaine at an industrial level. Belarius & Sons in contrast produce marijuana in a greenhouse under neon lights and are marked by a reggae soundtrack. This is a comment on the type of drug or the type of music or both. Greenhouses with strip lights are how it’s done. A few years ago we were deafened by a police helicopter with heat-seeking gear at midnight every night for a week. They were looking for just such facilities. The trouble in Poole was that they hovered over every house with an Aga running in summer or a heated swimming pool. Apparently the expensive operation found nothing. Well, except lots of Agas and swimming pools.
Anyway, the Belarius trio get green colour coding … semi camouflage. Martin Marquez is Belarius, looking every inch the ex-soldier. The sons are the boys kidnapped by Belarius at the start in revenge for his banishment by Cymbeline. He was “a soldier” in Cymbeline’s gang (and that’s what the Mafia call it too). Wisely, this version sticks mainly to just one name for the boys, rather than switching to the usual Welsh Cadwal and Polydor. Arviragus is played by William Grint, a deaf actor. This is a first, and Belarius and Guiderius communicate partly in signing. On paper, it looks an odd decision, but in practice it worked brilliantly because Grint was so good at expressing his emotions to Imogen without words. It was a powerful and moving performance and NOT because he is deaf.
L to R: Belarius (Martin Marquez), Arviragus (William Grint), Guiderius (Scott Karim), Imogen (Maddy Hill) on ground. Greenhouse rear left
Imogen arrives, meets her brothers who immediately adore her … thinking of course that she is the boy, Fidelio. She gets a cold, as you do in Wales, so takes the pick-you-up potion. Meanwhile Cloten arrives and gets into a fight with Guiderius, who decapitates him. They find Imogen and believe she’s dead and lay the headless body of Cloten … in Posthumous’s clothes next to her. This is a hard one. A dummy can look stupid (see the Wanamaker version). Here they’ve got bloodied cloth where the head should be and it is actually Joshua Lacey as the corpse (his breathing was just visible). I have mentioned before that if you have a black actor as Posthumous, and a white actor as Cloten (as here), it gets harder to believe that Imogen thinks the body is her husband. They’d thought about that, and the hands are totally red with blood. So she wakes up and makes the error.
The battle scene
She then joins the Romans in fury. Belarius & Sons join the English. Posthumous switches to the English too and battle commences, as a flying dance piece on wires. A triumph.
Cymbeline, like The Winter’s Tale which was written right afterwards, has a fault: that long undramatic Agatha Christie style explanation scene at the end of each play. Bernard Shaw tried to rewrite the end of Cymbeline . Matthew Dunster has. Like the RSC, they made the end scene work dramatically … and I’d say even better than the RSC, which is difficul. It was also very funny with Cymbeline smacking people’s heads on a table in fury, and at last, Imogen stays furious with Posthumous for doubting her, and puts Giacomo on his back and puts a foot on his throat. Don’t mess with Eastend(ers) girls.
The closing dance: Posthumous centre
The end is a thoroughly exciting dance piece and you can see that Ira Mandela Siobhan as Posthumous is the dance captain on stage.
Physical casting is superb. Everyone looks the part. Maddy Hill claims the role as Imogen. One review gave sniffy mentions of her past in Eastenders, but she is excellent (and Eastenders is appropriate experience). Joshua Lacey and Matthew Needham extract all the humour out of Cloten and Giacomo. Jonathan McGuinness and Claire-Louise Cordwell are a fearsome gangland double act as Cymbeline and his queen. The boys, Scott Karim and William Grint are impressive … with their close cropped hair, they both look slightly odd at first. Their affection for their sister feels real, though they lost the opportunity of having them wade in to help her in the final scene. I think they’d have put the boot into their new bruvver-in-law. I had a slight reservation, in that Scott Karim’s slightly Middle-Eastern facial look might be inappropriate for decapitating someone in 2016. My companion says she didn’t even think about it.
I described it as a “hard” concept, in that it follows through costume, props, accents, surroundings. It will be controversial. It’s violent, loud, sexy. The acting was a fine mix of experience and newcomers.
This year there has been a welcome (and even conservative) move to consistent accents at the Globe. Accents are part of the story. Here all of the gang are East London. In Taming of The Shrew everyone was Irish. I have been irritated by “do any accent you want” in recent years, as it has a Tower of Babel effect when you mix Glaswegian, Jamaican, Mancunian, Geordie on stage. When everyone has a similar accent you adjust to it. The doctor was slightly Scottish, but only mildly, and we accept Scottish as an accent for doctors and engineers (Beam me up, Scottie) which is a tribute to Scottish education. Caius Lucius was slightly African, and it did impede his comprehensibility as a “one-off” accent. But overall, the application of accents made sense … for a change.
Odd. The Globe’s notice board said 2 hours 55 minutes including interval. At our show, we were out of the front door at 2 hours 40 minutes. Early reviews mentioned it being long. It certainly felt pacey and just right. The programme has an article describing it as a dance piece with text. There was a lot of dance, or stylised movement but not enough to match that description. Had they cut it? Unusually for a Sunday afternoon, it wasn’t full. Maybe they got through the interval faster … once the line for the ladies and for the ice cream has gone, you might as well ring the bell. I think we had the allotted 20 minutes, but maybe a really full show lasts to 25. It’s still not 15 minutes though.
RECORDED MUSIC – KEEP MUSIC LIVE!
Up above our heads: speaker and spotlight. Stage behind swathed in plastic
Emma Rice’s new regime was into recorded sound effects earlier in the season. This is a further major move. All the music is recorded. That’s a great shame, and a further nail in the coffin of “live music” in general. The Globe reliably employed several musicians at every performance. Four or six jobs gone. The soundtrack is rap, and you think “Can’t that be played live?” But I guess when it’s samples and drum machines, having a person standing there operating the computer is akin to having a man with a red flag walking in front of the first motor cars. The reggae soundtrack could be played live, but once you’re using recordings, you’ve crossed a line.
I bought the CD of the 2016 RSC production of Cymbeline and have two tracks on my Best of 2016 playlist: Fear No More The Heat of The Sun by James Cooney and Terri Wilkey, and Marcus Griffiths on Hark Hark The Lark. Look! Credits! Real people! Original music, sung on stage. Come on, it’s live theatre! It beats recordings every time.
Yet again. The programme fills six columns of text with detailed credits including four carpenters, but having decided to use recorded music, there is no credit for the writers, producers or performers of the recorded music. The Globe is in line with nearly every other theatre here, but I will continue to mention it. The closing dance sequence was one of the most exciting things I’ve heard in the theatre this year. it filled five minutes of stage time. Not crediting it is shameful. As a music fan with eclectic tastes but little or no knowledge of the genre, I really wanted to know.
BUT IS IT THE GLOBE?
Before the show: fully curtained with plastic – the curtains are closed several times … but isn’t that like a traditional proscenium arch stage?
We have curtains. We have virtually no use of the pit (Maddy Hill exits that way a couple of times). No use of the gallery or inner stage. No audience interaction. We have lights. We have recorded music. The columns are swathed in grey to disguise the fact that we’re in the Globe. Why?
Domenic Cavendish in a clear, sharp review says:
I’m not objecting to experimentation and radical interpretation per se; and there’s no denying that this late play has a sprawling quality that tempts the secateurs. Yet such is ferocity of the pruning, in tandem with the grafting-on of contemporary speech and cod-Bardic verse, that I can’t see what this version is doing at Shakespeare’s Globe, or, if this form of hacking about with the canon is to be the new norm under artistic director Emma Rice, what the point of the Globe now is.
Well, it wasn’t full by any means. The night before the 1966 “pop music” Two Gentlemen of Verona lost at least a dozen people near us at the interval. I spoke to someone at Stratford who said she was not renewing her Globe membership after this season (and after many years as a member).
Ian Shuttleworth in The Financial Times says:
The trouble is that one wonders — in what has already become a mantra during Emma Rice’s first season at its helm — what the hell it’s doing at the Globe. Once again, it’s not a matter of snobbery … although, God knows, cutting almost all of the play’s most famous and poignant section “Fear no more the heat o’th’sun” while having Imogen lament her supposed widowhood by singing a Daft Punk number does make the nostrils flare in that respect. But no, it’s about waste of potential. When a production like this would work as well in any space of comparable size; when it ignores the configuration, structure and historical aspect of the Globe (that is, when it’s not treating them as problems to be overcome or hidden in polythene) … then where is the identity of the Globe, and what is its particular purpose?
The conundrum is that Emma Rice is seeking a new audience. She hasn’t alienated us (yet), and we’re both in the ageing white regular theatre goer section. I’ve often thought it must be galling for young actors to play a matinee to what looks like an Old Folk’s Home. I sympathise to the extent that this month I vastly preferred Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour to No Man’s Land with Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart. I value the youthful energy and enthusiasm more than the polished ageing thespian performance.
However, that ageing white audience (us) is also the pre-paying / premium seat/ reliable income sector too. We pay for the whole season months before we go and eat in the restaurant when we get there. That’s great for the balance sheet. But I fear she is alienating some of the traditional audience without guaranteeing her bright young hopes for future spectators.
I hazard that Matthew Dunster’s production would have garnered an extra star all round at The National Theatre or Old Vic or Barbican. Even at the RSC, which doesn’t claim to be an authentic reconstruction. But it does not use the Globe stage, nor does it appeal to the reason The Globe exists. It’s the wrong venue.
However, I feel the Globe can take a radical Midsummer Night’s Dream and an Imogen in a season. I loved both. But she really has to be careful to balance these with some text-faithful productions in Jacobean dress, utilising the theatre, which was the original idea of the place, and which so many foreign visitors pay to see. If it’s all like Imogen, I foresee tears before bedtime.
I might have gone higher if it wasn’t for the matter of principle on recorded music in a live production. I hope it’s a one-off. What would Ms Rice say if someone suggested, ‘Hey, don’t do Richard III next season. Just play the Olivier version on a big screen.” As I read more comments online, it’s also “not the Globe” however much I enjoyed it.
WHAT THE PAPERS SAID
Sadly, our two best-known critics (and they are my first read online) both disliked it. Both Mr Billington and Mr Cavendish (see above) complain about line changes, and of course, both know every Shakespeare play so well that they catch them, and they must jar for them.
Michael Billington, Guardian **
Shakespeare may have been reclaimed but he hasn’t, in any meaningful way, been improved.
Domenic Cavendish, Telegraph, **
Daft Punk are in; yet the beautiful verse following on from “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun” gets lopped. Criminal, really.
Ann Treneman, The Times **
Ian Shuttleworth, The Financial Times ***
Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out ***
Natasha Tripney, The Stage ****
Marianka Swain, Broadway World ***
Dan English, The Reviews Hub, ****
Dom O’Hanlon, London Theatre Co, ****
Claire Webb, Radio Times, *****
OTHER REVIEWS ON THIS BLOG
Love’s Sacrifice by John Ford, RSC 2015 (Duke of Pavy)
The Knight of The Burning Pestle, by Beaumont, Wanamaker Playhouse 2014
Comedy of Errors, Globe 2014 (Antipholus of Ephesus)
Titus AndronicusTitus Andronicus, The Globe, 2014 (Saturninus)
The Jew of Malta, RSC 2015 (Pilia-Borza)
Richard II, RSC 2013 (Harry Percy)
Henry IV Part 1 RSC (Hotspur)
The Merchant of Venice, The Globe 2015 (Prince of Morocco)