This review also appears in the Western Park Gazette
Cymbeline, one of Shakespeare’s later and less well known plays, almost didn’t happen.
Thought to have been written and ready for the stage in 1609, its first performance was delayed for over a year due to a common health and safety issue of the day: plague.
A plot packed with magic potions, an evil step mother, a princess forbidden to marry the love of her life and both lovers banished into separate exile are classic fairy tale material, and with Shakespeare’s addition of the ubiquitous ‘heroine disguised as a boy’ plot line, a brutal murder and subsequent misunderstandings make for an absorbing piece of escapism.
Leicester company Phizzical has created a Bollywood-style version of the play in association with Belgrade Theatre Coventry, now coming to the end of its tour at Curve’s Studio.
With Cymbeline’s numerous sub plots and magical influences it would seem to be a good fit with the stylised spectacle of Bollywood. The more enjoyable elements of the play were the few songs, especially the humour of the opening number, the funeral scene and the physicality of the fight sequences in the second act. Overall though, the balance between Bollywood and Shakespeare wasn’t right, with too much of the latter. I would have liked to have seen greater re-interpretation of the text in a new style; Shakespeare lends itself well to different settings and this seemed like an opportunity missed.
The cast of six played several different characters, although not always pulling off the distinctions between them. Tony Hasnath, was impressive as Yakim with great stage presence and a prowling sensuality. Sophie Khan Levy was a convincing, lovestruck Innojaan. Cloten, the evil step brother, was portrayed by Nicholas Gauci as comic and camp which worked well and provided light relief.
The different levels of the sparse set were fully utilised, with a simple door frame and good use of the space under the main raised stage. However, tapping generated from the actors’ shoes on the flooring was distracting, as well as peripheral noise coming from the wings. There were many comings and goings of actors marching off stage left and right, sometimes mid-scene and for what appeared to be a costume change. This could be done on stage, and again I found this was a distraction.
Shakespeare lends itself to interpretation in many styles, for example the recent jazz inspired production of Twelfth Night at Curve’s Studio. I would have liked Phizzical to have got more physical with this – the dance-inspired scenes were the strongest yet more could have been made of them.
Unfortunately, this production of Cymbeline is an interesting concept that didn’t quite work in practice.
Cymbeline is at Curve’s Studio from 14 – 16 November.