Imogen review at Shakespeare’s Globe, London – ‘an accessible, urban reframing’
Before she took over as artistic director at Shakespeare’s Globe, Cymbeline was the only Shakespeare play Emma Rice had really tackled, back in 2006. Her smashed up ‘free adaptation’ was not a favourite with the critics but it was evident what drew her to this messy, magical and most plot-heavy of plays.
This year has been one of many Cymbelines. There’s been Sam Yates’ traditional version in the Sam Wanamaker; a faintly chaotic, dystopian version by Melly Still for the RSC that starred Gillian Bevan in the title role; and now Rice ends her inaugural summer season with Matthew Dunster’s urban reworking of the play, renamed Imogen after Cymbeline’s daughter, the character who, after all, has the lioness’ share of the lines.
Dunster and designer Jon Bausor have sheathed the Globe in plastic sheeting. It makes a statement from the start. He’s clad his cast in Adidas and he kicks things off with a pulsing grime number. The director has form when it comes to making modern productions succeed on the Globe stage; case in point: Che Walker’s sprawling city comedy, The Frontline (let’s all just forget The Lightning Child ever happened, shall we?)
Every effort has been taken to make this most convoluted of plots easy to follow without killing the spirit of it, there are some arresting visuals – a greenhouse filled with marijuana, those ominous plastic abattoir curtains – and some striking moments of movement care of choreographer Chris Akrill, including a number of aerial sequences in which the characters don harnesses and take flight.
The ensemble playing is strong. Ira Mandela Siobhan is a charismatic Posthumous and Joshua Lacey is all mouth and strut and swagger as Cloten. But, given the way the play has been reframed and renamed, it requires an Imogen of complexity and presence, and Maddy Hill isn’t quite there yet – she’s a little bit insipid in the beginning. Only when she disguises herself as Fidele does she seem more at ease. In fact, the whole production shifts up a gear in the second half, and the scenes between Martin Marquez’s gruff but kind Belarius and his adopted family are incredibly tender, thanks in large part to William Grint’s Arviragus – the bonds between the brothers and their father are doubly present, in sign and in speech. These scenes are genuinely moving, just as the final group dance routine is properly thumping, arms-aloft, euphoric.
There are times when it feels like it’s straining too hard to be with it, to be the antithesis of a traditional Globe production, but this is exactly the sort of thing the Globe should be doing: irreverent, intelligent, diverse, accessible and welcoming theatre that actively engages with these plays and what they might say to an audience today.