CYMBELINE (by Peter Ansorge)Category: Theatre
Cymbeline by William Shakespeare
Presented by the RSG at Stratford-upon-Avon on 4 June 1974. Directed by John Barton with Barry Kyle and Clifford Williams, designed by John Napier with Martyn Bainbridge and Sue Jenkinson, lighting by David Hersey, music by James Walker.
“Britain’s a world by itself” announces Clatsen in Cymbeline providing a curious echo of both Richard II and King John. Although thematic continuity can’t haveseemed ahigh priority thisseason, John Barton has apparently conjured up an aura of patriotic makebelieve for all three of the RSC’s current Avonside offerings. It’s a vein most intriguingly tapped, perhaps, in Cymbeline — a play which has met with considerable success at Stratford over the past decade in spite of its rather suspect status as a work of literature. [...] Barton has realized that the characters in Cymbeline tend to take second place to the overall pattern of the narrative — the myth of redeemed time which provides the basic thematic diet of the late plays. This may be the reason why one experienced a distinct feeling of anti-climax during the first half of the Stratford performance. The dominant tone seemed to be one of larkiness — an element surely new to Barton’s work. Sheila Allen’s Queen appeared a wholly onedimensional creation, a silken butterfly, with an increasingly monotonous reading of her lines. Equally, Sebastian Shaw’s Cymbeline was distinctly unpromising. [...]
It’s with the appearance of Ian Richardson’s Iachimo that we glimpse a wider interpretative strategy at work. Richardson’s ability to draw irony from the most unlikely wells has, of course, been a source of constant pleasure at Stratford over the past few years. There are now certain roles [...] which I, for one, can no longer dissociate from this self-deflating urbane glint in Richardson’s eye nor from the frequently sharp and bitter insights which spring from his tongue. [...]
Only after the interval do we begin to appreciate the wider canvas upon which these characters conduct their lives. In particular the relationship between Imogen and Posthumous becomes a moving and bitter account of a separation. Against expectation Susan Fleetwood’s transformation into a boy is also her excuse for providing us with a powerful and energetic centre to Imogen. [...] Indeed there’s a genuine exhilaration about the final, seemingly preposterous taste of harmony —just because it concerns the stubborn, rather unpleasant but finally recognizable creatures of the early acts. Hence Sebastian Shaw tosses off his cloak of senility. [...] Cymbeline
is a king again and his kingdom has become bewildered by its sudden, totally unexpected good luck. It’s an infectious moment — carefully plotted and prepared by Barton’s ingenious reading of the play.
(Plays and Players, July, 1974)