By Danielle Farrow
This Cymbeline is something of an odd mixture – there are elements that show attention paid to detail, times when each actor shines in some role and movement sequences that are well-wrought. There are also elements that seem unnecessary and occasionally confusing, and times when performances are painfully hammy and lines are delivered in such a way that it is obvious the performer does not know the meaning (or is incapable of expressing it).
Shakespeare’s play is set in the Britain of Augustus’ Roman Empire, with King Cymbeline refusing to pay a previously agreed upon tribute, leading to war. The main plot is about his daughter Imogen, married against Cymbeline’s wishes, and the scheming of her stepmother and stepbrother Cloten, with subplots testing her faithfulness to her new husband Posthumus and bringing in her lost brother Guiderius. The cut down story is here told clearly, with some apt humour, some probably unintentional humour where tragic drama was aimed for, and reasonable fights with the occasional impressive move.
Hung images of the royals on screens as background set worked well, but other screens, made of metal wire on frames, were less successful – at one point an attachable shelf deftly created a bar, but at another point, time was spent in setting one section up as a bed on the floor, only for it to disappear under bedding – completely unnecessary. These screens also presented different spaces / geographical areas, but then irritatingly forced characters into the differentiated space – i.e. what was supposed to be another country – when they had to move round the obstacle that hadn‘t really been necessary to begin with.
Music was used for scene changes and for dramatic effect, but not always sounding apt. Performances included gabbling, over-the-top ‘evil’, and vocal delivery from a couple that, though clear and articulate, was continuously on the one level. However, there were also some well-observed performances, clearly differentiated from other roles played by the same actor. Characters depicted in a way worthy of honourable mention are Pisanio, Guiderius, Iachimo (though please vary delivery/vocal level!), Cloten and the doctor, with Imogen having moments of genuine pathos.
This Shakespeare’s Cymbeline has the feel of a student production rather than that of a professional theatre company, which Free Range Productions state they are, and certainly the audience responded more as if it were watching students, a fair few seeming to be fellows. There is a decent raw energy to the performance, but the acting and staging provides a very mixed offering, reminiscent of the curate’s egg.