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'Cymbeline' Review: Gripping Shakespearean Goodness

Opening night of Mya Kelln’s Cymbeline (A King’s Shakespeare Company production) at the Greenwood Theatre burst from any skeptical shackles one may hold against student theatre. The play is just over two hours of sophisticated and gripping Shakespearean goodness. In some productions, you may fear that the performers of Shakespeare’s work barely understand his writing at all; this was far from the case at the Greenwood. Kelln undeniably beats to her own bold directorial drum, but never loses sight of Shakespeare’s rhythm.

Eliza Cameron as Imogen and Lani Perry as Pisania. Photograph by Elizabeth Grace.

The standout performances were undoubtedly those of the central cast: Eliza Cameron as Imogen, Baxter Westby as Posthumus Leonatus, and Ben Leonard as Iachimo. Cameron commands every stage she’s on, her voice as powerful as it is expressive whilst she travels through the motions of Imogen’s toilsome journey through the play. Westby presents an acting class in bodily control; his gestures are sharp and tight but natural, never overstated. Leonard's Iachimo deceives with charm, bouncing off from Cameron and Westby's characters with magnificent flexibility. Lani Perry also deeply impresses as a consoling and principled Pisanio, and the group of villains (Bert McLelland, Alex Alcock and Raya Dasgupta) inspire equal laughter and scorn from the audience at just the right moments. The rest of the cast are far from overshadowed nonetheless. In being unable to comment on all the roles, I must instead conclude that King’s Shakespeare Company has proved to boast a very impressive company indeed.

Mya Kelln’s set is both excellent and resourceful. It does not often exceed functional, but it does so in an impressively subtle manner that works more for stage fluidity than ever makes the scene appear lackluster. Sheets are used both as cave entrances and as bed sheets that become part of Imogen’s costume, in an intelligent and convincing stroke of set design. The tied rags hanging from stage ropes act as an effective backdrop looming throughout, part of this production’s ongoing use of material, including stained cloth and changes of clothing, to communicate the characters’ dynamics and emotional states throughout the play.

Baxter Westby as Posthumus Leonatus and Ben Leonard as Iachimo. Photograph by Elizabeth Grace.

Material becomes a tool; cheap and shiny clothes reflect dishonest characters whilst the staining and damaging of costumes and rag props become central plot points. The show’s costume design deserves a moment of praise alone. Mya Kelln’s vision, alongside the collaborative efforts of cast and crew, made the costuming a valuable character of the play itself. It strikes a beautiful balance between historical references and modern dress, with Imogen’s expansive wardrobe being a particular source of varied brilliance as she moves between gendered disguises. This all reflects the most important and effective tone to be found in this production, which is that nothing feels inauthentic. This is perhaps what makes Kelln’s “tragic” approach to Cymbeline's multi-genre status work so well, as tragedy works best when it is rooted in subtlety over screaming.

Somewhere between Acts 4 and 5 could perhaps hold room for reconstruction; as backs begin to ache from theatre seats, some scenes feel a pinch too dragged out. It is, however, a minor critique of a student production that is otherwise truly of the highest caliber. The lighting and sound are also crisp and impactful, a sign of smooth off-stage operations between the talented crew and director.

Cymbeline’s cast and creative team, led by Kelln, have therefore built a bold Shakespearean world that maintains all of the text's quality alongside an injection of sparkling modern tragedy. It hooks and harrows as you watch, and I can confidently suggest you won't regret seeing this exam-season excursion. Get your tickets to see Cymbeline, running April 5th and 6th, here:

Elektra Birchall as Belarius, Harris Lerner as Arviragus, Jasmine Newton-Rae as Guiderius and Eliza Cameron as Imogen. Photograph by Elizabeth Grace.


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