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‘Cymbeline’ Review: A Cocktail of Magic, Mayhem and Mystery 

Actors in a production of the play Cymbeline.
Eliza Cameron as Imogen and Lani Perry as Pisania. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Grace

Staff Writer Sophie Jacobs reviews King’s Shakespeare Company’s versatile recent production of ‘Cymbeline’ –  a tangled web of love, trial and redemption.

‘Cymbeline’ contains everything you could possibly want in a Shakespeare play, from lost children to wicked stepmothers, to star-crossed lovers, to exile, to battle, to headless corpses…need I continue? From 3-5 April at Greenwood Theatre, the King’s Shakespeare Company staged their own production of ‘Cymbeline’, providing audience members with the perfect combination of tragedy, comedy and romance.

Baxter Westby as Posthumus. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Grace.

It’s clear that the cast is immensely talented! The most captivating performances included Eliza Cameron as Imogen, Baxter Westby as Posthumus Leonatus, and Ben Leonard as Iachimo. Cameron encapsulated Imogen’s resilient, compassionate character by maintaining a commanding disposition from start to finish. This was especially effective in her opening scene with Jack Aldridge as Cymbeline when she powerfully protested Imogen’s right as a free woman to marry Posthumus. 

Westby’s committed portrayal of Posthumus is also praiseworthy. He captured the vulnerability of this character extremely well when he wept into Imogen’s chest, nestling in her arms and trembling in his speech. Westby’s emotionally charged portrayal of Posthumus subverted the traditional notions of masculinity pervading the Elizabethan era, drawing our attention to one of the central themes: the fluidity of gender roles. 

Baxter Westby as Posthumus and Ben Leonard Iachimo. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Grace.

Another notable performance was Leonard’s Iachimo, who owned the stage by repeatedly breaking the fourth wall with his mischievous grin, enticing the audience to collude in his cunning machinations. The green lighting in this scene magnified Iachimo’s nefarious, repulsive character. While Iachimo fuelled the majority of the play’s tragic elements, Cloten (Alex Alcock) and his two energetic sidekicks (Bert McLelland and Raya Dasgupta) successfully diffused the play’s tension in the musical serenade scene, inspiring a wave of comic relief which had the audience in hysterics.  

Not only do the actors in this production deserve to be celebrated for their creativity and talent, but so does director Mya Kelln, who deftly adapts Shakespeare’s ‘Cymbeline’ to amplify the tragic aspects of this play. Indeed, rather than concluding the play with a clean resolution (as Shakespeare does), Kelln has Iachimo ruthlessly murdered by Imogen in the closing scene of her production. I found this ominous ending extremely effective, as it not only magnified the vicious, unbreakable cycle of revenge, which permeates Shakespeare’s more well-known works including ‘Hamlet’, ‘Othello’, and ‘Titus Andronicus’, but it also strengthened Imogen’s bravery and resilience, presenting her as a ruthless heroine who defies evil.

The Funeral in the Forest, ‘Cymbeline’. Elektra Birchall as Belarius, Harris Lerner as Arviragus, Jasmine Newton-Rae as Guiderius and Eliza Cameron as Imogen. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Grace.
Elektra Birchall as Belarius. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Grace.

Finally, the thoughtful use of light and sound adds even more substance to the experience. An intimate spotlight for monologues heightens the characters’ interiority and reveals their vengeful motives. It helps us distinguish between the Queen’s outward innocence and her inner duplicity. Through the clever use of levels, both Cloten and Iachimo are elevated to magnify their excessive pride – they are both convinced they can win Imogen’s heart. The red light and menacing music amplified the tension permeating the play, magnifying the characters’ anger and desire for revenge.

Overall, this was an immensely exciting production of ‘Cymbeline’ which entangles the heartwarming values of morality, loyalty, and kinship with the trials and tribulations of tragedy. I look forward to seeing what the King’s Shakespeare Company produces in the future!

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