At Last, A Play To Audit: Stratford's Cymbeline

Lately, theatre at Stratford has been focused more on the visuals and the concept rather than the rich text and characterization. This isn't a bad thing; there is always going to be a place for spectacle. But Shakespeare's audiences went to audit a play, not see one. Antoni Cimolino understands this succinctly, and makes the words the star of the show in Cymbeline.

Staged on the Tom Patterson's extreme thrust stage, Cymbeline is at first blush an extremely problematic play. With a twist-riddled story that feels an awful lot like Snow White, Cymbeline is often perceived as one of the weaker entries in Shakespeare's canon. Be that as it may, it has some thrilling passages of text. When delivered by a cast as strong as the one at Stratford is, this play is a fantastic experience.

As the titular king Cymbeline, Geraint Wyn-Davies pulls out all the stops. He is a good king but a bad father, which in a play more grounded in reality might have made him unsympathetic, but in this fairy tale land there is far worse than bad fathers.

Yanna McIntosh is a delight as Cymbeline's second Queen, who is absorbed with the study of poisons and a plot to make her feckless son Cloten (Mike Shara, very funny as always) king. McIntosh is totally at home with the long and complex passages of text that she is given.

Cara Ricketts as Innogen, Cymbeline's daughter and only child, is in turn courageous and vulnerable.

The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent; they seem to know what they're saying, which can be depressingly rare at Stratford. I attribute this to the production, which has been designed to put more emphasis on the words than on the visuals. While the trappings, are nothing less than Stratford's usual extravagant standard, they are nonetheless understated and inobstrusive.

This is the caliber of understanding I expect from professional theatres. Any theatre with a budget can make something that is visually stunning but ultimately empty. It's productions like Cymbeline that set Stratford apart from the rest. I anticipate Antoni Cimolino's run at the Festival with great anticipation.

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