Cymbeline at the Space Theatre
“Politics, pride and a sinister bet,” reads the flier accompanying Who Said Theatre’s production of Cymbeline. Summarising Shakespeare’s rarely told tale is not easy: themes of treachery and mistrust abound in a complex web of narratives that only at the story’s close coalesce. But those topics are surprisingly relevant to a contemporary audience: the backdrop of an isolated, dystopian Britain on the brink of crisis and questions of identity ring familiar in the wake of a divisive Brexit campaign, rendering the story certainly worth telling.
The action centres around Princess Innogen who is determined to be reunited with her low-born husband, banished from Britain by her father King Cymbeline after they married in secret. Already consumed with grief for the loss of his two sons and struggling to reign over a disintegrating kingdom, Innogen’s defiance clouds Cymbeline’s judgement, bringing the country close to war with the mighty Roman Empire. Meanwhile, murderous plots, mistaken identities, jealousy and lust further convolute the plot. Spanning genres in a mash-up of the likes of Hamlet, Othello and Romeo and Juliet, some have even suggested Cymbeline is a Shakespearean parody of Shakespeare.
Who Said Theatre captures just this sentiment. Their production is energetically performed and creatively choreographed, with Brian Hodgson’s direction mixing the contemporary and traditional in the costume and delivery. Blake Barbiche is an East London version of Innogen as a princess in platform sandals and short dress, and princess in disguise as Fidel in a checked shirt and beanie. Sam Barrett is a guns-baring-vest and skinny jeans clad Posthumus and Colin James strips off to reveal “Sex Bomb”-writ red pants as failed seductor Cloten.
The characters are well cast, with standout performances from fiery redhead Barbiche – her limby frame and expressive face bringing a physical dynamism to her invocation of a determined Innogen – and Luka Lee as a thundering and troubled Cymbeline. The humour of the play is brilliantly portrayed throughout, particularly its darker shades with Leto Dietrich as a slimy Iachimo, and Billy James Martin and Laurence Ellerker as the bantering kidnapped brothers, as well as its violence, with some pretty full on physical tussles.
Based in a converted church on the Isle of Dogs, The Space is unique but slightly remote for drawing the crowds. Nonetheless, Cymbeline is a great example of the art centre’s dedication to bringing emerging artists and rarely produced works to the stage in an inventive and experimental way.
Cymbeline is at the Space Theatre from 5th until 18th December 2016, for further information or to book visit here.