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Cymbeline review at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London – ‘Shakespearean panto’

Sam Yates’ fast-moving and never flagging production of Cymbeline walks a thin and sometimes wavering line between heroic drama and Christmas panto, both of which turn out to be quite acceptable as interpretations of the late Shakespearean romance.

And while the play opens and closes in heroic mode, and returns to it frequently, the victory of the holiday spirit is evident in the audience’s eagerness to laugh happily at every line or plot turn that can be heard as comic.

Certainly the play has a lot of the fairytale about it, including (among many other elements) a damsel in distress, an evil stepmother, a panto-level villain, a bumbling would-be villain, a kindly hermit, a Juliet-style death-feigning potion, and the direct intervention of the god Jupiter, who here takes a female form suggesting a fairy godmother.

The good guys are very good, though occasionally confused, the bad guys are very bad, though as likely as not to repent and reform, and whether taken seriously or comically, it all works.

The titular king is actually a minor character in the play, which centres on his daughter Innogen, who Emily Barber plays as strong and assertive, equally passionate in love, anger and grief, so that it is believable that everyone she meets is drawn to her.

Jonjo O’Neill is appropriately stalwart as her briefly alienated husband, Trevor Fox admirable as a bravely loyal servant, and Pauline McLynn, Eugene O’Hare and Calum Callaghan equally hiss-worthy as the villains.

Late Shakespeare romance has a happy holiday season feel to it, practically a Shakespearean panto

Production Information

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
December 2, 2015
April 21, 2016
Press night
December 8, 2015
William Shakespeare
Alex Baranowski
Sam Yates
Michela Meazza
Richard Kent
Richard Kent
Martin McKellan (voice and dialect), Owain Gwyne (fight director), Cabrina Cuniberto (costume supervisor)
Stage manager
Ian Farmery
Production manager
Paul Russell
Cast includes
Emily Barber, Calum Callaghan, Trevor Fox, Darren Kuppan, Christopher Logan, Joseph Marcell, Pauline McLynn, Eugene O'Hare, Brendan O'Hea, Jonjo O'Neill, Dharmesh Patel, Tika Peucelle, Paul Rider
Running time
2hrs 50 mins