JAKE ARNOTT finds a sillified Shakespeare which slips into sloppiness.
Gonville and Caius Old Courts, 21st-22nd June, 2.30pm, Free
Directed by Margaret Maurer
Shakespeare’s only surviving village panto, Cymbeline is a glorious mess of a play, full of complicated and unashamedly absurd twists and coincidences. It’s perfect May Week fodder – farcically light entertainment, weighted with the Bard’s name for a bit of gravitas. The Gonville and Caius production wholeheartedly embraces the play’s silliest elements with a keen sense of humour, but a pervading sense of amateurishness ultimately disappoints.
Opening the play, a complex and challenging prologue is accompanied by a beautifully choreographed and very funny dumb-show, elucidating Shakespeare’s dense language and introducing us to the cast. Immediately throwing the audience into the pell-mell world of Cymbeline, this strong opening shows everything the cast do best. The play’s best moments are consistently those where the collaborative, thrown-together, fun-loving aspects of the play are brought into focus by tight choreographic control.
Some slips and screw-ups, often well-recovered, were attributable to first-night nerves, but the play too often lacks that vital control, and it grates a little when so many laughs come from the shoddiness of the performance. Watching actors make ingenious use of sparse, low-budget equipment is compelling, but laughing over forgotten lines, slipping accents and faulty scene-changes is only funny so many times before the play starts to feel sloppy.
The cast can’t be blamed for the weather, and it was a pity that this unusually wet May Week moved the action indoors, since the production was so evidently pitched towards sunny outdoor silliness. It would help, however, if they could adjust more to their surroundings. The unforgivably hammy Juliet Cameron-Wilson bellows her way through every line, gesticulating wildly and at random and intoning in an atrocious French accent. In the noisy, tiled acoustic of the Bateman Auditorium’s, it was almost unbearable.
Charlotte Quinney plays a solid Imogen – the play’s central role – and around her good-humoured competence, the cast’s fluid role-shifting brings the play to an appropriately mad-cap conclusion. Mateo Oxley as Imogen’s two competing suitors is a delight, particularly in his consistently hilarious portrayal of the camp and vainglorious Cloten, and Sam Sloman excelled in slick shifts from character to character, with an especially enjoyable part as an exuberantly Italian Roman senator.
Luka Krsljanin brings the most ‘Shakespearean’ influence into the play – while every other character is being sent up for laughs as far as is humanly possible, his Iachimo is a nuanced and sinister presence. In a play that feels a little too A-level, Krsljanin sometimes seems to be the only person actually acting, although even he isn’t entirely free of the curse of campness that pervades the play.
For a pleasant introduction to one of Shakespeare’s less well-known plays, you could do worse than popping into Gonville and Caius and praying for sunshine, but don’t expect a complex, well-directed interpretation – this bonkers production plays for laughs and laughs alone.