Our film and sometimes theatre critic Marc Glassman recently spent a week at the Stratford Festival. This is the second of his three reviews.
A weekend at the Stratford Festival is always an adventure in theatre going, with a challenging diversity of productions to attend. It seems appropriate for this review to evoke the title of the NFB Oscar-nominated ‘50s documentary that chronicled that fabled first year, 60 years on. Tyrone Guthrie is long gone but the drama, imagination and integrity of the festival is still marvellously evident in this, an anniversary year. And so is the range of material on offer, from a new Canadian production to an elaborate re-staging of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera to the comparatively rare mounting of a late play by the festival’s inspiration, Shakespeare.
Antoni Cimolino, director
William Shakespeare, playwright
Starring: Geraint Wyn Davies (Cymbeline), Cara Ricketts (Innogen), Graham Abbey (Posthumous), Tom McCamus (Iachimo), Yanna McIntosh (Queen), Mike Shara (Cloten), Brian Tree (Pisanio), Peter Hutt (Dr. Cornelius), John Vickery (Belarius), E.B. Smith (Guiderius), Ian Lake (Arviragus)
Cymbeline is one of Shakespeare’s last plays and only recently has it returned to a position of prominence in the canon. Stratford has mounted three previous productions, one of which (in 1987) starred Martha Burns as the feisty princess Innogen and Colm Feore as the vile Iachimo and must have been wonderful to see. Knighted directors Peter Hall and Trevor Nunn have worked their magic with Cymbeline in London, conferring luster on an oft-ignored work.
Stratford General Director Antoni Cimolino, who will replace Des McAnuff as the Artistic Director next year, has created a wonderfully virile staging of the play. Using a mostly bare set, dressed on occasion by a regal bed and at other times by two divans, Cimolino relies on his actors and a satisfyingly brusque direction to recount Shakespeare’s convoluted plot.
Suffice it to say that Britain during the end of the Roman Empire was not an easy place to be, even for its king, Cymbeline. Having lost two sons to a bizarre kidnapping and a wife in childbirth to his daughter Innogen, Cymbeline has remarried and now has a brash and rather odious stepson, Cloten. While Cloten would love to marry the beautiful Innogen, the princess has defied the court by wedding a relative commoner, Posthumous. When Posthumous flees to Italy to avoid Cymbeline’s wrath, Innogen is left in court to deal with her angry father, a duplicitous Queen and her son.
Much more happens in Cymbeline, a play that seems to have offered Shakespeare the chance to recall most of his earlier narrative devices. There’s a king who feels that his daughter has betrayed him. There’s a scene where a loved one wakes up from a potion to find someone she loves (or thinks she loves) is dead beside her. False identities abound and lovers are betrayed by letters. There’s low comedy and high drama. And a tremendously moving funeral oration which inspired a poem by T.S. Eliot and is quoted in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway—and is, in fact, the great Shakespearean moment in the play.
As Innogen, Cara Ricketts is brash, funny and a fine romantic lead. The ever-resourceful Tom McCamus brings subtlety to the one-dimensional villainy of Iachimo. Despite being the titular character, Geraint Wyn Davies doesn’t have to do much as Cymbeline until the last few minutes of the production. He is full value when finally called upon to deal with a dramatic—no, melodramatic—finale.
This Cymbeline is well worth seeing. True theatregoers owe it to themselves to catch a unique production and a play that rarely is presented in Canada.
Photo | Graham Abbey and Cara Ricketts | Photo by David Hou