Kneehigh Theatre, Cymbeline

Review in Issue 19-2 | Summer 2007

Cymbeline did what Kneehigh do so well: reached out and pulled the audience into the action. At the Lyric, the production’s ambition and buoyant cast struggled slightly with the combination of a design comprising a huge cage and a proscenium arch theatre. Though the structure had a distancing effect, full use was made, thematically and physically, of the iron bars that kept the King trapped with his lounge-singing nurse-mistress, and Imogen encased in the castle of her father’s grief. The delightful mixture of technology and tradition sees hoodies hanging outside the palace; a remote-control postal Ferrari; a giant board game unfolded when Cymbeline wages war on Caesar. This exuberance and excess is exciting, though live music, often integral to Kneehigh’s pieces, sometimes slows the action rather than propelling the story on. The production, bursting with ideas, and ever surprising, has been criticised for making free with Shakespeare’s text, and the attitude taken by the company is not reverential. But in making a story with some very silly moments come alive, the technique of stripping down the text and building it anew allowed complicity between performers and audience. For those wedded to Shakespearean accuracy, this was like a love affair: playfulness and raw emotion taking precedence over fidelity. If at moments the dialogue strayed towards mundanity, and we missed sophistication and poetry, the strength of the performances made it work. Hayley Carmichael quietly glowed, mis-reading a letter in which Imogen is accused of having ‘played the strumpet’ in her lover’s bed, roaring out her rage at the false accusation: ‘I don’t even PLAY the trumpet!’ Carmichael commands a huge range of expression, and at the other end of the spectrum, the gentle question ‘Where’s his head?’ rings out over the hushed audience. Like so much of this company’s work, emotional punch and punchline effortlessly combined.

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This article in the magazine

Issue 19-2
p. 31