Shakespeare is generally known for two types of plays: tragedy and comedy, but in CYMBELINE we get the best of both genres. This dramatic story rife with mistaken identity, murderous plots, and convuluted tricks is turned on its head with Shakespeare’s unmistakable one liners. Cymbeline is one of the most rarely performed plays, but I am incredibly delighted that Bard on the Beach has chosen to tackle it for their 25th season.
One of the best decisions in this production that added wonderfully to the comedy was to have each of the male actors double up on how many characters they were playing. It kept the play light enough to allow for the comedy to come through. As the drama heated up, actors were quickly swapping their costumes onstage to play both of their characters at once. This Monty Python-esque, TheatreSports style was a great addition and seemed as though it were how the play was meant to be performed.
Some of the standout performances in these roles were the villanous Queen, stepmother to Imogen, who plots her death. Played by Shawn Macdonald, he kickstarted the play with his stark contrast to all others initially on stage, the only one not laughing and joining in the fun but instead hands clasped tightly together with a cocked eyebrow that immediately identified him as one to watch.
Bob Frazer presented the cunning Roman seducer with a goal to entrap Imogen, the ungrateful Second Lord to her stepbrother, and a Roman soldier set to bring war to England. He transfers between roles smoothly, but his best moment is as the seducer Iachimo when he manages to get himself in front of Imogen herself.
The most stunning of these multiple character performances was surely done by Anton Lipovetsky, as Imogen’s lover, hated stepbrother, and unknown brother. With three large roles and references between them, it was always enjoyable seeing him on stage. The characters were each so incredibly separate from each other it was sometimes forgotten that they were all played by the same man. The different emotions and mannerisms from each character seemed to take complete control of him, requiring no other distinction for the audience.
The sole woman of the play, Imogen (Rachel Cairns), King Cymbeline’s daughter, was a vision on stage. Her evil stepmother the Queen plots her death while a Roman bets her lover that she’ll fall to his advances, but all throughout Cairns delivers an amazing performance as the audience experiences each of her emotions just as strongly as she does, and ends up falling in love with her much as the rest of the characters do.
The energy of this play would have been impossible without Benjamin Elliot’s musical creation that was threaded throughout each scene. With the actors usually sitting at the back of the set they contributed to this production with mandolins, guitars, drums, and an accordion and kept the casual, comedic aspects of the play through every scene.
Although this play may not be one you’re familiar with, that’s part of the fun. Experiencing one of Shakespeare’s masterful creations for the first time, especially when it’s presented so wonderfully, is part of the joy of theatre. You can get a ticket for this play, or any of Bard on the Beach’s 25th season here.