The Bard on the Beach production of Cymbeline is an odd and convoluted tale told with style and panache.
[pullquote]Although Cymbeline is a strange tale filled with beheadings and creepy scenes, it is always engagingly staged and completely compelling.[/pullquote]One of his last plays, Cymbeline is considered one of Shakespeare’s ‘problem’ plays because it defies being labeled a comedy, a tragedy or a history. The plot is rather complicated as many of its twists are based on coincidence or withheld information, but even with its complications there are some brilliant moments of comedy and equally moving moments of drama.
In Cymbeline, the titular King has banished Postumus, the husband of his daughter Imogen, for no apparent reason. We also discover that Imogen has two brothers who disappeared when they were babies, and the King’s new wife has been dabbling in poisons and politics in the hopes of making her selfish and arrogant son Cloten the new King. Meanwhile, soldiers from Rome are contemplating an attack on England and in another subplot that really kicks things into high-gear, an Italian nobleman makes a bet that he can prove to Postumus that his wife is not as pure as he thinks.
Director Anita Rochon has come up with a fun and stylish concept. Using just seven actors, she employs story theatre elements that include fast wardrobe changes to allow them each play up to three characters, and then adds a sexy and sleek vibe to it all.
Rochon successfully pulls straightforward and honest comedic performances from her cast, allowing the simple line readings to burst with comic potential. That same straightforward and honest approach is also used in the more dramatic moments, with beautifully moving results.
The entire cast meets Rochon’s vision, giving their making their characters heartfelt, high-stakes, and a playful sense of comedy.
Rachel Cairns embodies such a resourceful princess with a strong will and a big heart. Whether she is spurning the dullard Cloten or crumpling under the weight of grief, she was always very real and genuine.
Anton Lipovetsky is simply astonishing. While he has proven himself a great actor in past roles, here his subtle vocal and physical shifts from character to character are daring, but ultimately successful choices. Although at first it is difficult to identify each of his characters, as the play goes on you begin to notice the changes in facial tension between characters.
Rounding out this brilliant and talented ensemble in this touching tale about reuniting with family and with love are Anousha Alamian, Shawn Macdonald, Gerry Mackay, Benjamin Elliot and Bob Fraser.
Mara Gottler’s costumes are gorgeous, with variations on fencing outfits that include small flourishes of emerald coloured vests and skirts for the King and Queen, leather vests for the Noblemen and red sashes for the soldiers.
Although Cymbeline is a strange tale filled with beheadings and creepy scenes, it is always engagingly staged and completely compelling. And while the last 20 minutes filled with crazy revelations and denouncements, it is so wild and so weird that it still very entertaining, despite their improbabilities.
Entertaining and slick, Cymbeline is a great opportunity to round out your Shakespeare experience this year at Bard on the Beach. You will not only see a brilliant fun and moving play, you’ll also appreciate why it is not performed more often.
Cymbeline by William Shakespeare. Directed by Anita Rochon. A Bard on the Beach Theatre Festival production. Playing in repertory with Equivocation on the Howard Family Stage through September 17. Visit http://bardonthebeach.org for tickets and information.