Thurs 19th April to Sat 21st April and Tues 24th April to Sat 28th April 2012
Directed by Diana Wallsgrove
Britain is still in the dark ages, subject to the rules and financial levy imposed by mighty bureaucratic Europe. Should it break out and demand independence? Should this be by peaceful diplomacy or through war? This is just one of many themes in Shakespeare's play, his most popular in the eighteenth century, today almost unknown.
Add to that, two narrators, a feisty heroine who dresses as a boy, lost princes, a wicked stepmother, the handsome hero and the idiotic villain AND Act Two being set in Milford Haven (yes, Milford Haven!) and you have a dark fairy tale of love, lust, intrigue, trust, fidelity and betrayal.
This drama is one of the Shakespeare's great comedy plays. Based on legends concerning the early Celtic British King Cunobelinus, it's listed as a tragedy in the First Folio but is often described as a romance. The play deals with themes of innocence and jealousy and while the precise date of composition remains unknown, it was produced as early as 1611.
Cymbeline, King of Britain, takes a new wife who has an arrogant son called Cloten. Cymbeline's beautiful daughter Imogen was expected to marry her new step-brother Cloten. Instead she married the brave, but poor, Posthumus Leonatus. Her father is furious when he finds out about the marriage and banishes Posthumus who goes to Rome. Before he leaves, the couple have just time to exchange love tokens. Imogen gives Posthumus a diamond ring and he gives her a bracelet.
The villainous Iachimo, a soldier in the Roman army, later makes a bet with Posthumus that he can tempt Imogen to commit adultery. Having stolen her bracelet, from her bed-chamber while she slept, he lies to Posthumus that he has won the bet. Faced with what he sees as proof of her infidelity, Posthumus orders his servant Pisanio to kill Imogen, but Pisanio warns her instead. He then helps her fake her death, disguises her as a boy and sends her to Milford Haven. There she befriends "Polydore" and "Cadwal" who, unbeknown to her, are really Guiderius and Arviragus, her own brothers - banished 20 years earlier.
At the play's resolution the Queen, Imogen's stepmother dies and with her last breath, confesses that she never loved Cymbeline and she tried to poison both Cymbeline and Imogen so Cloten, her own son, could assume the throne. Identities are resorted, Iachimo confesses his deception and Imogen and Posthumus are reunited.
A draft of the script can be found here.
This play was staged at The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre (formerly Havant Arts Centre), East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977. It was produced in conjunction with The Royal Shakespeare Company as part of their Open Stages initiative.
First Captain (British)
|Posthumus Leonatus||Jeff Bone|
|Jupiter (recorded voice)||Jaspar Utley|
|Pisanio||Richard Le Moignan|
|Roman Captain||Maurice Lillie|
|Lady Helen||Lorraine Galliers|
|Stage Manager||Jacquie Penrose|
|Assistant Stage Manager||Maurice Lillie|
|Lighting Design||Phil Hanley|
|Lighting Operation||Robin Hall|
|Sound Operation||Sharon Morris|
|Costume Design||Sue Dawes|
|Costume Assistants||Jen Jones, Judith Smyth, Robin Hall|
|Set Design||David Penrose|
|Photography||Dan Finch, Julie Wood|
|Front of House Manager||Ingrid Corrigan|
Cymbeline is a fairy tale, in essence, with wicked stepmother, lost princes and a feisty princess at its heart (plus Roman soldiers, and one or two other oddities). This Lambs' Tales from Shakespeare version makes for an easy way of reading the story.
The copyright for this dissertation remains at all times with the author, Diana Wallsgrove. The text within it may not be re-produced in any form, in whole or in part, without her express permission.
Authenticity was not a concept that existed in Shakespeare's theatre. Thus, in The Winter's Tale, Bohemia has a sea coast, although it had none, and the clocks strike in Rome during Julius Caesar although such things were not yet invented. What Shakespeare is at pains to establish is that we are not here - i.e. not in Elizabethan or Jacobean London. Perhaps Shakespeare needs to do this so that what is written cannot be considered treason. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Shakespeare does not seem to have spent time in the Tower due to having upset the reigning monarch, so it obviously worked!
Cymbeline doesn't seem to know whether it is "tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, or (and most probably) tragical-comical-historical-pastoral" to quote from Hamlet. Shakespeare's play is (very loosely) based on a King of Britain ruling in the first century AD, whom he may have read about in accounts by Suetonius. Much more to the point, this is a tale of 'once upon a time there was a king with three children...' Above all, Cymbeline is a fairy tale and, that being the case, authenticity has nothing to do with it!
Near the beginning, Posthumus Leonatus is banished from Britain. He goes to Italy and there meets one Signor Iachimo. It seems clear that he has not gone from Ancient Britain to Classical Rome - but to (for Shakespeare) 'modern' Italy. Later we meet the apparently eco friendly 'Welsh mountaineers'. Near the end, under the leadership of the Ambassador, Caius Lucius, there is a Roman invasion - and this time Shakespeare seems to really think of them as Romans, not Italians - so we have too! Thus our seemingly anachronistic mix of costumes reflects Shakespeare's inexactness about time and place. The clever clogs amongst you might be wondering why Albania and Dorset seem to be represented in our battle flags - sorry - we liked the images and again chose effect ahead of the authentic.
This play was certainly performed during 1610 (there's a written account of it). That year saw the investiture of James I's son Henry as Prince of Wales. This may perhaps account for everyone going off to Wales in the second half of the play and extolling the virtues of Milford Haven (yes, seriously - though that was before it had an oil terminal!). We've done our best to embrace the fairy tale spirit of this play. It was hugely popular during the eighteenth century but although it was performed in the Victorian age, I don't think they liked its mad mix of ingredients. As the only really star vehicle is Imogen, in the age of grand actor-managers, it really didn't suit.
I hope that you will, like me, laugh, cry and be amazed by Cymbeline - and wonder why it isn't performed much more frequently.
An extract from Cymbeline directed by Di Wallsgrove, was performed at The Nuffield Theatre on June 13th as part of the Open Stages event. Here are Di's thoughts on the event. "It was well over a year ago now that The Bench decided to take part and some of us attended Directors' and Actors' workshops. It was an interesting challenge to adapt part of our original production, designed to occupy The Spring's small stage, to the vast space and very different feel of the Nuffield. Not only that but three cast members (Richard, Terry and Claire) were bravely playing new roles within our twenty minute extract. We concluded the evening's entertainment.
Our piece stood up very well in comparison to the other companies performing, providing the wonderful 'Cymbeline' blend of drama, emotion and comedy. It was warmly received by the small but appreciative audience. It would have been lovely to see more Benchies there, but perhaps the day was more about actors having fun in a professional theatre rather than entertaining an audience..."
In her programme notes director Di Wallsgrove muses over the reason behind Cymbeline's infrequent performance.
Coming to it for the first time myself on The Bench's opening night, I'm inclined to agree.
Shakespeare's text takes time to get going, but when it does it's beautiful. That said, Wallsgrove's production has an uneven texture.
Performances are generally good but the verse only seems to truly take flight in Terry Smyth's mouth - interestingly when given the earthy leg-up of a Welsh accent. Smyth's whole performance is well-judged. David Penrose - always a master of verse - gives a lovely subtle underplaying to Iachimo, the baddy of the piece.
Alice Corrigan makes Imogen - one of Shakespeare's less-interesting heroines - feisty and fun and Mark Wakeman's Cloten is a real comedic firework. I'm not entirely convinced his performance sits comfortably in the show as a whole - but the opening-night audience loved it. However, Jeff Bone, as hero Posthumous, needs to find a bit more variety, a few more angles, to be truly convincing.
Apart from some desperately poorly-conceived fight scenes, the direction, played against Penrose's beautiful set, works well.
The show's a must-see because who knows when you'll get another chance?
James George The News 20th April 2012
With a wronged princess, a wicked stepmother, long-lost sons, an oafish step-brother, and a devious Italian, this rarely-performed play had all the ingredients of a pantomime instead of the romantic tragi-comedy Shakespeare wrote.
And perhaps it should have been presented as such, as the many different periods used to stage and costume Diana Wallsgrove's uneven production did not sit well together. But the storyline held together sufficiently and the play itself perhaps deserves to be seen more often, though varying delivery of the verse and a pitifully poor battle scene let the evening down badly.
Mark Wakeman's Elvis-wigged Cloten was a self-deluding delight and had the audience chortling, while Terry Smyth's Welsh-twanged Belarius was fresh and confident. Alice Corrigan, as Imogen, the wronged princess, could have been a bit more gutsy, while David Penrose's scheming, and ultimately penitent, Iachimo was a joy to listen to.
Ed Howson The Daily Echo 24th April 2012