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Nov 18th

Half A Sixpence - Noel Coward Theatre

By Douglas McFarlane

Half A Sixpence


This one was always going to be a different review for me. It was my very first performance on stage. I had auditioned for the part of Arthur Kipps with Theatre Guild in Glasgow, after a few years of training. Aim for the stars and land on the clouds was my policy. The role was given to the editor of this website, Cameron Lowe, and I was delighted to get the role of one of his 3 mates, Pearce. Cameron played opposite his wife Suzie, and they were the perfect Kipps and Ann as they had the connection needed to show that clearly Kipps was in love with the young Ann from childhood. This was important as my review will cover.

On arriving to pick up my press night tickets, I bumped into Sir Cliff Richard, as you do. "Good evening, Sir Cliff", I said and he smiled and said hello back before going to look for a pre-theatre restaurant. It was going to be one of those nights with celebrities attending it seemed. Gloria Hunniford arrived in a chauffeur driven car, "Good evening, Gloria", I felt that I was celebrity stalking and all I was doing was picking up my tickets. The photographer on hand was snapping away and mentioned that there were many more expected tonight. I popped into Brown's next door for a lobster and a glass of champagne.  This was a special night, so I was all out, and returned to the theatre bar for further champagne, picked up the Half A Sixpence soundtrack, and headed early to my seat.

Curtain up and Kipps and Ann are on a sparce stage as teenagers and having a bit of fun.  Not a great start. They were supposed to be childhood sweethearts and this Kipps, played by relative newcomer Charlie Stemp, didn't care much. Sure, he shuffled up to her, but it wasn't natural and didn't get across that shy, timidity of teenage friends secretly being in love. It was such an important opening scene and they'd ruined it for me and it was to prove critical for the overall enjoyment of not just myself, but I'm sure much of the audience. Ok, maybe that's a bit over dramatic, but a fellow reviewer sitting next to me had noticed this too.

You see, the story as it goes, is that Kipps is a poor boy who inherits some money, only to find the girl of his dreams when he's older, Miss Walshingham, superbly played by Emma Williams, is too posh and he is drawn back to his childhood sweatheart when she appears back on the scene as an employee of the wealthy family. He's supposed to be torn between the two lives. Money and posh girl. No money and poor girl.  However, as an audience we don't care. We actually like this Miss Walshingam, she seems to have her head screwed on and feet firmly on the ground. She's not a nasty posh, it's her mother's upwardly mobile aspirations at any cost is what we don't like. So as an audience, we're not as sad as we perhaps should be when Ann played by Devon-Elise Johnson beautifully sings her solo leaving only a small hint of tear from me at the end of the first act.

On the whole I felt that Charlie Stemp's Kipps, isn't as cheeky chappie as I'd have preferred. The style of Tommy Steele's original singing was heartfelt, warming and Stemp seems to have lost all of that.  Additionally, his vocals seems to take a dip at the end of some lines, for no known reason, when those were key notes which could've shown the quality of his voice. He did dance around stage and jump from high places to show his agility and did an admiral acting job, but for me he needs to go much further with this role to really bring the house down.  There's some real emotion that is missing from this version of this wonderful musical as a result.

Having said all that, what it lacks in emotion in makes up for in laughter. The scene with the new song "Pick Out A Simple Tune" had the audience roaring with enjoyment, and as the crescendo of the musical reaches towards it's final scene of "Flash Bang Wallop", the audience were on their feet and gave the mightiest of roars as it came to it's conclusion. Everyone, including me, were on their feet. Both of these two main scenes were made more interesting by Gerard Carey, who plays James Walsingham with his maniacal piano playing and hanging from the chandelier in "Pick Out A Simple Tune" and the camp funny Photographer in "Flash Bang Wallop".

Half-A-Sixpence is on at the Noel Coward Theatre and is currently booking until end-February 2017.





Nov 18th

RSC KING LEAR: Barbican Theatre, London

By Elaine Pinkus

The Barbican theatre, London, is currently host to Greg Doran’s King Lear following its successful run at Stratford-upon-Avon and is set to be a resounding success once more. The minimalistic staging design (Nick Turner) is supported by effective lighting (Tim Mitchell) and atmospheric sound (Jonathan Ruddick) that jointly confirm the turmoil that takes place before our eyes.

Recognising that he no longer has the strength to continue his reign, King Lear decides to abdicate and divide his kingdom between his three daughters. Demanding declarations of filial love for their father, Lear’s anger reaches disproportionate levels when Cordelia, his youngest and once favourite daughter, refuses to exaggerate her love for him and is banished. The two elder daughters, Goneril and Regan inherit the kingdom and their greed and lust for power culminates in the final tragedy.

Lear photograph Ellie Kurttz

Antony Sher: King Lear

From the onset, we can see that Lear is descending into a fog of madness. But the modern audience is only too aware of the degenerative dementia that has become almost 'epidemic' in society today and the perspective shifts from madness into the mental decline of senility. Once an all powerful tyrant, Sher portrays the confusion of an old man who has lost his way in the world. He stumbles, he rants and then slips into a calm, a peace and a tolerance morphing into a different persona. The moments on the heath with Edgar (Oliver Johnstone) and then with the Earl of Glocester (David Troughton) appeal in perhaps the most humanistic way. Here, these powerful characters, appear as two old friends sitting together peacefully and sharing a moment of genuine friendship. In their vulnerability, they expose the tragedy of their lives and the wonder of life's meaning, giving full clarity to Edgar’s ‘reason in madness’.

Lear and Gloucester photograph Ellie Kurttz

Antony Sher and David Troughton (Earl of Gloucester)

Recurring themes of blindness, madness and power are played convincingly by this excellent cast and we do not doubt for one moment the awfulness of Edmond (Paapa Essiedu) and his treachery and Goneril (Nia Gwynne) and Regan (Kelly Williams) in their unfathomable greed. Such themes echo in 21st century world politics and offer an uncomfortable familiarity, which makes this play highly accessible to its audience. Is there a resolution or closure? I think not as the audience left the auditorium deep in conversation and thought trying to make sense of a world gone mad.

Sher’s Lear took us on a journey and his most poignant moments were when he spoke with calmness and deliberation. He was ably joined by Troughton whose tragedy was heartbreaking and Antony Byrne as the Earl of Kent who offered calm and order.

The audience’s reaction was testament to the excellence of this production. I would recommend this as a 21st century production of the powerful tragedy of King Lear.

Photography: Ellie Kurttz

Royal Shakespeare Company – King Lear

Thu 10 Nov–Fri 23 Dec 2016, Barbican Theatre

Silk Street London
Underground: Barbican, Moorgate

Box office: 0845 120 7511



Nov 14th

This Really Is Too Much by Gracefool Collective at the Blue Elephant Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

Gracefool_Image web.jpgLook. (Point.) You've never had it so good. We. Are moving. Forward.


Gracefool Collective is a company of dancemakers consisting of four women: Kate Cox, Sofia Edstran, Rachel Fullegar and Rebecca Holmberg. Their "post-intellectual-pseudo-spiritual-feminist-comedy-dance" has been twice shortlisted for the Vantage Art Prize and after seeing their latest work, I can understand why.

This Really Is Too Much focusses on female gender stereotypes in an anarchical and hilarious way as the four characters struggle to find their own identities only to be put in boxes because there is no room for variation.

4 characters, dressed in black, are sitting on the stage, looking straight ahead with a blank stare. As the show begins, there is silence. Suddenly, one character speaks: "I'll tell you something." Again silence. "I am the answer." This is followed by variations of the quote "Look. (Point.) You've never had it so good." Suddenly, a tune resembling elevator music leads to a surprising change: All four characters strip down to bikinis and begin performing in commercials for various products, from cleaner to skin lotion. As soon as the music stops, the characters get dressed, changing into their different roles: a participant in a beauty pageant, a  housewife who shows off her impressive skills in a very seductive way, a scientist, and lastly an umemployed therapist searching for work. As the characters are trying to tell their stories, they are frequently interrupted by the elevator music and they immediately feel the urge to strip off for the objectifying commercials.

The production is highly entertaining as well as thought provoking as Gracefool Collective show the absurdity of trying to be a person as well as a woman in our society in their dance comedy. The scientist is as much ignored as the beauty queen, who is completely reduced to her looks, the job searching therapist is confronted with a rigid bureaucrat who has boxes to tick, no matter whether the answers fit or not. But no use complaining: "Through all of this, it is important that you keep smiling." Nobody likes an ill-tempered woman.

By Carolin Kopplin

This Really Is Too Much was shown at the Blue Elephant Theatre on 11th & 12th November.

It will transfer to Yorkshire Dance, Leeds for one performance on 26th May 2017 only. Further info:

Running time: 60 minutes without interval

Nov 13th

Gothic Season at the Hope Theatre: The Worst Was This

By Carolin Kopplin


... if he thrive and I be cast away,
The worst was this: my love was my decay.

The Gothic Season at the Hope Theatre continues with the latest production by Wild Goose Chase in association with the critically acclaimed New Room Theatre. Matte O'Brien's play, a mix of modern Grand Guignol and Elizabethan mystery story, takes place in a post-apocalyptic Britain.

After a great war has destroyed all animal life on Earth, meat has become very scarce. However, in a pub named "The Wayward Sisters", there seems to be a constant supply of fresh meat. Pub landlady Agatha (Sarah Barron) and her two sisters Rue (Lauren Hurwood) and Odette (Beth Kovarik) run a successful black market business with the help of Bob aka "Bones" (Mark Jeary), who carries out the bloody deeds. When Will (Ben Clifford), a young actor and playwright, enters the sisters' pub to meet with disfigured poet Chris (Robin Hellier), who was presumed dead, a Shakespearean love triangle turns into tragedy. 

The show begins with cheerful songs by Lesley Gore and the Partridge Family but the joyful tunes are soon distorted and a breathless man enters with a dagger and a bloodied script. Cut to the pub "The Wayward Sisters" where Bob drags in some more fresh meat to be turned into a tasty stew. When Will enters the pub, the sisters make a mess trying to explain what is in the bag but Will is not really interested, he is looking for Chris to teach him how to write plays.

Director and playwright Matte O'Brien transports Elizabethans Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare into the future with the premise that Marlowe survived the attack on his life, though badly disfigured, and Shakespeare took advantage of Marlowe's preference to be assumed dead, claiming Marlowe's plays as his own. Combined with a Grand Guignol type horror story that involves gory murder, cannibalism, and resurrection of corpses, this production is a lot of nonsensical fun, written in blank verse and prose that is skilfully delivered by the cast.

Sarah Barron is especially good as Agatha, the eldest of the three sisters who considers Lady Macbeth a softie and follows in Dr Frankenstein's footsteps to pass the time. Beth Kovarik is enticing as Marlowe's muse, desiring so much more from the poet who is unable to reciprocate her feelings. Robin Hellier gives a fine performance as the tortured Marlowe.

Vari Gardner's costumes are a successful mix of modern garments, such as t-shirts, and period costumes. The fight scenes, choreographed by Robin Hellier, are very exciting and somewhat frightening in such an intimate space.

An absurd horror story with a lot of funny moments. 

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 26th November 2016

The Hope Theatre

Running time: 80 minutes without interval




Nov 12th

The Beggar's Opera by Lazarus at the Jack Studio Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin


Of all animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.

After their intriguing production of Brecht's Chalk Circle, Lazarus Theatre Company return to the Jack for their season finale - John Gay's ballad opera. With new lyrics and music by Bobby Locke and Chris Drohan, Gay's biting satire about Walpole's administration, a society dominated by money, self-interest and celebrity criminals is transported in the world of today featuring greedy bankers, corrupt politicians, and the all powerful media.

Entering the auditorium, we are welcomed with bags of sweets. Well, some of us. Highwayman Mcheath (Sherwood Alexander) obviously wants a favourably disposed audience for the show which starts off with a rousing song right after the prologue as we enter a world of cheats and liars, filled with a deep craving for money and power.


 Sherwood Alexander as Mcheath

Peachum (David Jay Douglas), a fence and businessman, who manages a syndicate of highwaymen and has splendid connections to the government and court, is appalled when he finds out that his daughter Polly (Michaela Bennison) has secretly married Mcheath. Upset that Polly won't be of much use any more, Peachum and his wife (Natalie Barker) decide to have Mcheath killed for his money. Unknown to Polly, Mcheath, a serial philanderer, is whiling away his time in a tavern, surrounded by women of dubious reputation. He discovers too late that Jenny (Rachel Kelly) was contracted by Peachum to capture him and he ends up in Newgate prison, which is run by Peachum's associate, jailer Lockit (Josie Mills). Lockit's daughter Lucy (Elizabeth Hollingshead) is pregnant by Mcheath and expects him to keep his promise that he will marry her. When Polly arrives and claims him as her husband, Mcheath convinces Lucy that Polly is crazy and Lucy helps him escape by stealing Lockit's keys. Yet this is not the end of the story. 

TBO-062.jpgElizabeth Hollingshead as Lucy

Ricky Dukes' adaptation of John Gay's classic, which was written in eight weeks and rehearsed in three, has become a fast-paced production with a beautiful musical score by Bobby Locke and Chris Drohan, which helps transport the action into the present. Bankers and politicians dance and booze with members of organised crime, returning to their jobs to do their benefactors' bidding whilst the media manipulate public opinion. A surprise guest also joins the party of the rich and privileged who obviously are no better than the criminals they consort with.

Lazarus, known for combining text, music and movement to present the heart of the play and thereby making it more attractive to modern audiences, create a symphony of colour in the umbrella scene, and a comical dance of the MPs who are puppets of organised crime.

Sherwood Alexander is very good as the attractive rogue Mcheath. David Jay Douglas is all businessman as Peachum and Natalie Barker sings the praises of promiscuity and widowhood with conviction and with the highest notes. Elizabeth Hollingshead resembles a seductive panther as Lucy when she faces the naive and innocent Polly, a lovely Michaela Bennison. Josie Mills is very good as the corrupt jailer Lockit.

Ricky Dukes' production could not be more relevant.

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 3rd December 2016

The Jack Studio Theatre 

410 Brockley Road, London SE4 2DH

Admin No: 020 8291 6354

Running time: 80 minutes without an interval

Photographs by Adam Trigg. 

Nov 10th

Morir Soñando at the Blue Elephant Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

Morir Sonando image 2.jpg

The winter season at the Blue Elephant Theatre has started with the exciting ELEFEET Dance Festival presenting new and innovative work. Morir Soñando is an exploration of Dominican identity, beautifully choreographed by Stephanie Peña.

Titilayo Adebayo, dressed in a white top and black pants, arrives in a new environment, a new country. Firmly rooted in her own cultural background, she dances in a freeform style with African elements to the song "Ae Mamá Si E' / Candelo (Palos o Atabales)" by Mercedes Cueva & Los Paleros de Nigua. The other three dancers - Samanta Ceriani, Larren Jeffries and Alice Seager - wear uniform reddish tops and black pants. Their style is very different from Titilayo's and they treat her with suspicion and rejection at first. After making a stand for their own style of dance and music (songs by Fernando Villalona, Juan Luis Guerra, Rokabanda), they try to assimilate Titilayo's character but she clings to her own roots, refusing to give up her indiduality and her heritage.

As the performance begins, Titilayo Adebayo is kneeling on the floor with her back to the audience. She is swaying to the music and eventually gets up to dance joyfully. Two other dancers enter the stage and lie down at first, dreaming and swaying. When they encounter the unknown dancer, they first react with curiosity, admiring her elegant and strange movements, but this soon turns into hostility because of her otherness. As they are trying to make the stranger one of their group, her own song keeps pushing to the surface. She refuses to copy the new dance moves and returns to her own style.

This is a beautiful production dealing with the complex subjects of integration and cultural identity featuring skilled dancers and a tuneful and rousing score. Titilayo Adebayo shines as the outsider but the other dancers are equally delightful.

By Carolin Kopplin 

 The show ran the Blue Elephant Theatre from 7 -8 November 2016.

Running time: 45 minutes without an interval.

More information on ELEFEET:

Photograph provided by Blue Elephant Theatre.

Nov 10th

Snow White - Vienna Festival Ballet at Theatre Royal Windsor

By Kate Braxton

Suspending our disbelief is part of the pure magic of theatre. I enjoy seeing things in a fresh light. But as a creature of comfort, I also like to see tradition respected.  The Christmas season may be upon us, but the story of Snow White doesn’t have to be a panto. It can be ballet, but woe betide any production that drops the dwarves.  

With this in mind, it’s easy to see why Vienna Festival Ballet and its world-class, classical heritage, borne out of the city of music, culture and arts is enchanting followers across the globe. I’d go so far to say that their production of Snow White, currently gracing the stage at Theatre Royal Windsor is a true fairy-tale of a show. It’s not perfect, but it is a wonderful celebration of progress. 

The plot is familiar, the interpretation, loyal and engaging. The Queen of a faraway land is obsessed with her own beauty, and seeks the reassurance of her magical mirror that she remains “the fairest of them all”. One of her subjects, a handsome huntsman, takes her fancy. But he becomes mystified with the beauty of another – Snow White – who she sets out to kill. Snow White meets dwarves – check - is tricked into eating a poisonous apple, the Huntsman saves her, they fall in love and The Queen is remorseful, but forgiven.

All of the theatrical elements of a classical ballet experience are lovingly woven together here, then generously offered to us like a neatly-wrapped gift, under the artistic direction of Peter Mallek. Having been taught by a former pupil of Alexander Pushkin, Mallek’s illustrious career saw him dance alongside Rudolf Nureyev, and partner Dame Margot Fonteyn. You just know you are experiencing this art form at the hands of a master, which the production is joyfully celebrating. It is aware of the richness of its own quality, yet remains humble, with personality and accessible. It is brimming with traditional values and modern twists, but is far too disciplined to burst with them.

The costumes are romantic, detailed, charismatic and intelligent; sensational gowns fit for a palace ceremony, flittery, pastel organzas of the nymphs, cartoon-like, droopy dwarf matching onesies; each costume is considered and styled for consistent charm and a glint of surprise.

The musical arrangement compiled by Alan Lisk and choreography by Barry McGrath have the fit and confident presentation of a sleek glove. Even when jaunty, energetic and playful, classical dance boundaries are pushed with the inclusion of modern personality, but never too much to derail the wholesome artistic intention. Balance.

The Queen’s evolving emotions through the story are exquisitely captured by Jodi McKnight, who steals the show with her characterization. In the opening scene she preens in front of the mirror like the most grotesque of birds, and for me, the stand-out scene for all of its dramatic qualities is the cauldron dance, within a simple white spotlight on a blood red stage. It is mesmerizing, like Macbeth’s Witches Scene, without the words.

Rachael Victoria Hernon as Snow White is physically lighter than air and Huntsman, Dean Rushton has no challenges wrapping her about him, like a prized silk robe. I would have liked him to show more visual signs of emotion, but not quite as much as the male ensemble dancers, some of whom didn’t quite carry the distinction of finesse I may have expected of this company.

But the production is maintained at its supreme overall level through the artistic staging and lighting direction by John Graham, and additional choreographed touches by Emily Hufton. Beautifully painted floor-to-ceiling backdrops, coupled with immersive lighting gives layer upon layer of texture to each scene. An over-sized chalet pantry creates a clever trompe-l’oeil effect to right-size the dwarves into their diminutive shoes. But anything to do with the dwarves is pretty cool, particularly the hip-hop routine.

For whatever reason, you don’t expect to see this at your local theatre. A bit of European fairy-tale, an authentic Viennese waltz, I truly haven’t enjoyed ballet this much since I did it myself, aged seven. Christmas can include panto, but this Snow White was what it’s really about for me; taking me back to good times, and providing special memories for years to come.

Snow White is running at Theatre Royal, Windsor from:

Tue 8th Nov - Sat 12th Nov
Show Times
Tue - Sat 7.30pm Wed, Thu & Sat 2.30pm
Ticket prices
£13 - £31
Royal Specials £37 - £39
Box Office: 01753 853 888




Nov 9th

Shakespeare Revue at the Richmond Theatre

By Douglas McFarlane


Music, dance and sketches was the promise and I guess that's what we got. A whistle stop tour of a wide variety of sketches written by Victoria Wood, Monty Python, Stephen Fry and many others, Shakespeare Revue did what it said on the tin. 

Playing to a half empty Tuesday night audience at the Richmond Theatre, the cast of 5 started with one of the sketches that I knew well. Quoting Shakespeare was one I had personally performed in Glasgow, "It's all Greek to me", and it kicked off the night nicely. Monty Pythons "The Man Who Speaks in Anagrams" was a worthy inclusion and kept my attention in the first part. 

In the second half we were entertained with some light tap dancing, some pleasant singing and the odd amusing moment.  Alan Bennett, Derek Nimmo and Maureen Lipman providing the content.

On the whole, it was a nice night out, a bit of light Shakespeare entertainment and a couple of laughs.

It's heading to Brighton and Glasgow next.


Douglas McFarlane is London editor and founder of UK Theatre Network.

Nov 8th

Drones, Baby, Drones at the Arcola Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

Drones Baby Drones image.jpgTuesday is just the day we take the garbage out.

Nicolas Kent, former Artistic Director of the Tricycle Theatre, is known for his "Tribunal Plays", political pieces - often including verbatim material - dealing with complex issues. The first work I ever saw was the impressive 9-hour event The Great Game in 2009, covering the history of Afghanistan and attempting to grasp the complexity of the ensuing conflicts. I talked to Afghani audience members during the day who were deeply touched by Kent's production, confirming the truthfulness and authenticity of his work.

Drones, Baby Drones also combines verbatim material with two short plays, written by three authors. The show is framed by excerpts from an interview with Clive Stafford Smith (Sam Dale), Director of Reprieve, who comments on certain aspects of the drone war, serving as an introduction to each play.

This Tuesday by Ron Hutchinson and Christina Lamb is a kaleidoscope of characters in high positions regarding national security who are directly or indirectly involved in the drone war. Taking place in real time, we meet CIA director Maxine Forman (Anne Adams), watching anxiously over her daughter, who was involved in a severe car crash as the clock is ticking away, whilst discussing an upcoming bombing of a wedding with Jay Neroli (Joseph Balderanna) to kill an alleged terrorist leader. Meanwhile Doug Gibson (Tom McKay), a White House security adviser, married with children, is spending his Tuesdays sleeping with intern Meredith Zane (Rose Reynolds). Meredith is critical of Doug's "high tech assassination bureau" but Doug remains unfazed, pointing out that the country is at war and has the right to defend itself. Commander Ben Crowe (Sam Dale) and Captain Mario Garcia (Raj Ghatak) are playing basketball whilst talking about the power shift in favour of Langley: Important tasks have been taken away from the army and shifted to the CIA. Whereas Garcia is critical of military action in the field being replaced by paper-pushers playing videogames, General Crowe, who has an affinity to Greek drama, welcomes the development. In the end Maxine, Jay, and Doug meet to "take out the garbage".

Nicolas Kent's direction feels a bit rushed and the play itself has elements of a soap opera with echoes of Homeland but it touches on important issues and is an exciting piece of theatre with a strong cast. During the scene changes, black and white images resembling those that are transmitted by drones are projected onto a screen adding to the eeriness of the piece.

The second play, The Kid by David Greig, is the stronger and more intense of the two short works. Two drone operators, Pete (Tom McKay) and Shauna (Anne Adams), get together in a suburban home with their partners to celebrate. Pete and Shauna managed to take out a bad guy, a top terrorist, and now present their work as "a clean cut". Shauna's partner Ramon (Joseph Balderanna), a soldier in the regular army, is excited, praising them as American heroes, as they drink wine and eat pop corn. Yet Shauna feels uncomfortable about the celebration. She eventually admits that it wasn't a precision killing, there was collateral damage: A child was killed. Pete's wife Alice (Rose Reynolds), who is expecting a baby, shows remarkably little concern for the murdered kid. Her speech leeds to a shocking conclusion.

Featuring an impressive cast, both plays criticize the questionable method of a long-distance war. Eliminating a target by pressing a button, thousands of miles away, reduces the action to a move in a videogame. There is also the question of collateral damage. Is it justified to kill innocent people along with the suspected terrorist in order to - possibly or probably - save hundreds of lives? Directed by Mehmet Ergen, The Kid shows the ambiguity of drone warfare even more intensely than the first play that focuses on too many characters and their stories. The subjects of both plays overlap somewhat and these issues have been discussed in other plays and films before but this does not make this double bill less relevant.

By Carolin Kopplin

Drones, Baby, Drones runs at the Arcola Theatre until 26 November 2016

Box office: 020 7503 1646

Running time: 100 minutes including one interval

Nov 5th

The RSC Presents Cymbeline at the Barbican

By Carolin Kopplin


Hang there like fruit, my soul, till the tree die.

The romance Cymbeline is one of Shakespeare's late plays and rarely performed because of its complex and convoluted plot. Therefore, we are rather fortunate that we've been given the chance to see two intriguing productions in London this year - one by Shakespeare's Globe and now another by the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of their London Season.

When Innogen (Bethan Cullinane), the Queen's daughter and the only living heir, marries her childhood friend Posthumus (Hiran Abeysekera) in secret, the enraged Cymbeline (Gillian Bevan) banishes him. Cymbeline's husband, the Duke (James Clyde), realising that his foolish son Cloten will never win Innogen's heart, is plotting to seize power by murdering Innogen. Meanwhile Posthumus, in exile, agrees to a bet regarding the faithfulness of his wife, suggested by the cunning Iachimo. When Iachimo tricks him into believing that his wife betrayed him, Posthumus joins the Roman army to fight against Britain. Innogen, deceived by Posthumus's servant Pisania (Kelly Williams), that she is to meet her husband at Milford Haven, learns about the plot against her life and disguises as a man to save herself, hiding away in a forest in Wales where she meets Belarius and - unknown to her - her two siblings who were abducted by Belarius when they were just little babes.

Cymbeline production photos_ May 2016_2016_Photo by Ellie Kurttz _c_ RSC_192813.jpg

Hiran Abeysekera (Posthumus) and Bethan Cullinane (Innogen)

Director Melly Still transports the action from the times of Augustus Caesar to a dystopian future where a deeply divided and isolated Britain has slipped back into a pre-industrial state. Queen Cymbeline is wearing a garment made of sacks, the characters inhabitating the forest in Wales hunt with bows and arrows and look like they are part of the "Mad Max" franchise. Whereas Britain is presented as a series of run-down builidings, sprayed with graffiti, Rome is featured as a glorious metropolis, cosmopolitan and trendy where the characters freely converse in Italian, French, and Spanish - even English, which should come as a relief to Iachimo's friend Philario (Byron Mondahl) who, apart from being awkward with languages, uses a strong English accent to great comic effect. Even Latin is used when the Roman general and Cymbeline discuss the state of their relationship. Cymbeline refuses Rome's rule, declaring "we are a warlike tribe" Yet towards the end of the play Britain returns to the fold of Rome and to peace and harmony.

I am not so sure about the analogy to post-Brexit Britain. There is a difference between being part of the Roman Empire, which was comparable to colonialism, and being a member of the European Union. I doubt that the EU is going to wage war against Britain any time soon after Article 50 has been evoked although the other member states certainly wish Britian would remain.

However, Melly Still's production is intriguing and beautifully staged. Bethan Cullinane's Innogen is lovely and deeply touching - a sweet and innocent character who openly displays her love for Posthumus, played as somewhat awkward and rough by Hiran Abeysekera. Oliver Johnstone's Iachimo is an Italian Latin lover, smooth and slippery at first, yet tortured by his conscience later. Cloten, a great comic performance by Marcus Griffiths, is hilarious as the unwanted suitor as he is awkwardly serenading Innogen with the song "My Lady Sweet Arise".

Cymbeline production photos_ May 2016_2016_Photo by Ellie Kurttz _c_ RSC_192826.jpg

Gillian Bevan (Cymbeline)

The production features a diverse cast and some gender swapping with Cymbeline being turned into a Queen, which lends more relevance to her relationship with her abducted children, and Innogen's stepmother thereby becoming an scheming Duke and avoiding the fairy tale stepmother cliché. The servant Pisanio is transformed into Kelly Williams' cheeky and self-confident Pisania. One of Innogen's lost brothers becomes Natalie Simpson's wild and free Guideria.

Designer Anna Fleischle has created a sparse set featuring parts of buildings that can be transformed from medieval towers sprayed with graffiti, covered by creepers with a tree stump in the centre. Video projections add to the the story telling when videoclips of Innogen and her siblings playing as children or the city of Rome are projected onto a big screen. A live band on elevated platforms on either side of the stage provide Dave Price's haunting and often beautiful soundtrack for the production. 

An outstanding production of a difficult and rarely performed play that should not be missed.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 17th December 2016

Barbican Centre

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes

Photographs by Ellie Kurttz.