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RSC's Cymbeline Live Screening @ Second Space, The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury

Published by: Yvonne Delahaye on 29th Sep 2016 | View all blogs by Yvonne Delahaye

The live screenings have proven to be a huge success and this time it was the RSC’s acclaimed production of Cymbeline that was screened around the country.  This little performed play was set in ancient times when the Romans ruled Britain, which was alienated and on the brink of disaster, as questions were raised about the taxes that had to be paid, as well as national identity.  Director Melly Still brings a fresh contemporary interpretation, with comparisons to Brexit, making it as relevant to today, as when it was written.

An ineffectual Queen Cymbeline rules over a divided dystopian Britain. Consumed with grief at the death of two of her children, Cymbeline’s judgement is clouded. When Innogen, the only living heir, marries her sweetheart Posthumus in secret, an enraged Cymbeline banishes him. Behind the throne, a power-hungry figure plots to seize power by murdering them both.

In exile Innogen's husband is tricked into believing she has been unfaithful to him and in an act of impulsive jealousy begins a scheme to have her murdered. Warned of the danger, Innogen runs away from court in disguise and begins a journey fraught with danger that will eventually reunite Cymbeline with a long-lost heir and reconcile the young lovers.

Cymbeline mashes up a variety of different Shakespeare stories, with a woman dressing as a man, a ring being given to a lover, a poison that’s actually a sleeping draft, ghosts to name but a few.  As one of Shakespeare’s last plays it’s in the Romance grouping, which are more sharply tragicomic than his comedies: threats of death and scenes of suffering are more acute.  Personally, I felt it was very violent and bloody, especially with a beheading and headless corpse being hugged, but maybe the sense of humour was different in those times?

Gillian Bevan takes the title role of Cymbeline, the first woman to take on the role for the RSC, as it was written as King Cymbeline.  Gillian gives a very strong performance, but actually she is rarely on the stage and it seemed to me that the play really was about her daughter Innogen, so perhaps that should have been the play’s title?  Bethan Cullinane gives a critically-acclaimed performance, as Innogen, as the wronged wife seeking to find her misled husband.

The most enthralling performance of the show for me though was by Oliver Johnstone as Iachimo, the Italian nobleman who sets out to deceive Posthumus.  Oliver’s commitment and intensity make him so compelling to watch and I’m sure he’s someone we’re going to hear a lot more of in the next few years.

A cleverly designed set, for this theatre in the round production, worked well to create the different countries and the photographs and graffiti added to the feel of the piece.  The only downside was that when the translations of Latin were screened on the wall, the cameras moved off too quickly so we couldn’t always read them.  Still it’s a great way to see an RSC production, at a fraction of the cost of travelling to the theatre itself and there are 2 more coming up, King Lear on 12th October and The Tempest on 11th January, so book your seats at your local cinema/theatre now!

Reviewed by:
Yvonne Delahaye



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