Cymbeline is one of the least performed of Shakespeareís plays. To modern audiences, the overly elaborate plot - mixing elements of history, folk romance, a story from Bocaccio and a few swipes at Italians - might seem a trifle cumbersome.
The play hasnít been seen in London since Mike Alfredsí excellent production at the Globe four years ago. That was a remarkably clear and uncluttered version, which simply told the story and kept the audience involved. Now, boldly stepping up to the plate, itís Rachel Kavanaugh who tackles this complex play.
The action starts with an unusually long and involved exposition scene. Kavanaugh makes this slightly more palatable by using the whole cast as the chorus Ė which also helps to identify the relevant characters. The director has wielded the knife at the text in several places, not least dispensing with the appearance of Jupiter to Posthumus. As a result of such pruning, things race along at a fair pace.
But thereís little that Kavanaugh can do to nullify the effect of the last act, where Shakespeare looks like heís just got bored with the play and is itching for it to end. The rising tide of audience laughter on press night indicates that a modern audience appreciates the preposterousness of Shakespeareís intentions.
The perception of the central character of Imogen is something that has changed with time. The Victorians were fond of this character, seeing her as a manifestation of chastity. A strange belief perhaps as itís a reputation gained from the fact that Imogen doesnít sleep with some smooth-talker within five minutes of meeting him. Twenty-first century audiences see her as more complicated than that: as a woman who, rejected by her father and abandoned by her husband, has to survive many of lifeís vicissitudes. But Emma Pallant doesnít really get to grips with the many intricacies of the character.
The standout performance is the smoothly villainous Iachimo courtesy of Simon Day. With his sharp Italian, heís every inch the Euroscepticís worst nightmares come to life. Itís easy to make the character a caricature of malevolence, but Day makes him frighteningly plausible.
Thereís a highly comic Cloten from James Loye. His aristocratic oafishness is instantly recognisable to anyone whoís ventured down to Parsonís Green at a weekend, although perhaps he lacks some of the characterís nastiness - not a complaint that could be made about Harriet Thorpeís scheming Queen. At least we should be grateful that Regentís Park hasnít given us yet another Midsummer Nightís Dream this year, but there are plenty of other rare Shakespeare plays to do. Given the sketchy nature of the raw material, director and cast combine to make this Cymbeline as entertaining an evening as possible.
- Maxwell Cooter