Geraint Wyn Davies (centre) as Cymbeline with members of the company in Cymbeline. (Photo by David Hou)
Stratford Shakespeare Festival
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Antoni Cimolino
Tom Patterson Theatre
Runs until September 30
Review by Geoff Dale
If you’d had any qualms up to this point in time about celebrating the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s 60th season, the reason to dispel any ill-conceived notions of not attending officially arrived this week in one simple word – Cymbeline.
For three glorious hours in the intimacy of the Tom Patterson Theatre, director Antoni Cimolino, a gifted acting company and a bold technical crew held a packed house spellbound opening night with one of Shakespeare’s most compelling yet often ignored works.
A multi-layered romantic comedy with splashes of intense tragedy, blazing battle scenes and even a thunder and lightning accompanied appearance of the god Jupiter, the plot focuses on Cymbeline, King of Britain, who marries a widow with an arrogant son Cloten.
The King expects his beautiful daughter Innogen to marry the cloddish Cloten but instead she secretly weds the poor but proud Posthumus Leonatus.
Before Posthumus is banished from Britain and leaves for Rome, the couple exchanges love tokens with Innogen giving him a diamond ring while he presents her a bracelet. The villainous Iachimo wagers 10,000 ducats against the ring that he can seduce Innogen.
Although Cymbeline has inexplicably fallen from grace in some circles over the years, the play is arguably one of the Bard’s most magnificently constructed pieces – a wonderfully complex play with over-lapping plot lines brimming with deceit, cross-dressing, poison, treachery and even moments of laugh-aloud humour.
The text is as rich and full as one will find in any of Shakespeare’s more famous works:
No more, you petty spirits of region low,
Offend our hearing; hush! How dare you ghosts
Accuse the thunderer, whose bolt, you know,
Sky-planted batters all rebelling coasts? – Jupiter (Act V, Scene 1V)
A master craftsman, Cimolino skillfully guides his company and, ultimately the audience, through the revealing first act, with the opening scene firmly planted in the middle of the action.
Playing with and delineating the complexities about to unfold throughout the lengthy production, he sets the giddy pace for a wonderful journey of exploration that becomes even more intense in the second act.
The battle scenes staged by fight director Todd Campbell are nothing short of spectacular. Loud, gripping and exuberant, the actors do not miss a step in these action-packed moments of mayhem.
Lighting designer Robert Thomson and his crew bring Jupiter to life in vivid sky-shattering fashion, ensuring the sequence is one filled with awe, terror and mythological majesty.
The actors are picture perfect with Tom McCamus a delightfully evil Iachimo; Yanna McIntosh a subtly evil scheming Queen; Geraint Wyn Davies a grandiose King Cymbeline torn apart by wildly conflicting emotions arising from continuously evolving plotlines.
Posthumus – one of the play’s most physical demanding roles – is handled with both grace and power by Graham Abbey. Eloquence and truth ring from the lines of one of his moving monologues:
Is there no way for men to be, but women
Must be half-workers? We are all bastards,
And that most venerable man which I
Did call my father was I know not where
When I was stamped.
Cara Ricketts is both beautiful and endearing as Innogen and convincingly boyish in her cross-dressing role as a page. The complete opposite, Mike Share offers up a comic masterpiece as the none-too-bright Cloten, evoking some much-deserved heckles and boos from audience members at curtain call.
The gifted trio of John Vickery, E.B. Smith and Ian Lake, as Belarius, Guiderius and Arviragus respectively, add even more intrigue and touches of almost slapstick comic relief, in yet another sub-plot weaving its way into the main core.
Brian Tree, a Festival favourite fan for many a year, lands a juicy role he can sink his teeth into as the loyal Pisanio. Along the way, the veteran actor displays some remarkable physical skills, taking two nasty tumbles at the hands of his assailants that might have crumpled a lesser actor, even one much younger.
Stephen Page’s music is an added bonus to the production, adding ideally-suited mood to the Bard’s literary magic.
Cimolino and company should be justifiably proud of this magnificent achievement – an unforgettable moment in the Festival’s 60th anniversary celebrations and quite simply theatre at its finest. **** out of 4 stars.
Approximate running time: 3 hours
Tickets: 1-800-567-1600 or online http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/
This review is also posted online at: The Beat