Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Matthew Dunster
Choreographer: Christopher Akrill
Reviewer: Dan English
Class A drugs and inner city gangs, not the usual ingredients of a Shakespeare play nor usually spotted on stage at Shakespeare’s Globe, but this time they find themselves together in the remarkable Imogen.
Based on Cymbeline, this Matthew Dunster directed production is ‘renamed and reclaimed’ to make Imogen the focal point of the show. It is a show full of swapped identities and intense passion as Imogen (Maddy Hill) is kept apart from her husband Posthumus (Ira Mandela Siobhan) by her father, King Cymbeline of Britain (Jonathan McGuinness). As Imogen attempts to find her banished lover, with the help of her loyal servant Pisania (Leila Ayad), she is caught up among the backdrop of war which is raging between the British and the Romans, while trying to escape the advances of the venomous Cloten (Joshua Lacey).
Hill’s Imogen is remarkable, with her ability to switch from innocent youth to distraught wife demonstrating her array of acting talent across the near three-hour production. The innocence of her Imogen is well crafted, particularly during her character’s two dream sequences, although this Imogen is not as naive as some, with her final interaction with Posthumus one of feminist triumph. It is also refreshing to see some of the character’s humour brought to the foreground through Hill’s portrayal. There is a grittiness to Hill’s Imogen, enhanced by the drug-fuelled society in which the play is set, which helps to add yet another layer to this already well-crafted character.
Siobhan’s Posthumus is slick in his rapid descent from loving husband to raging soldier after fearing his wife has become an adulteress. The connection that he sparks with Hill is electric from their very first interaction in the production’s opening moments. Siobhan’s command of the tricky dialogue is also impressive throughout.
Dunster’s production is a success largely due to the fantastic performance from theentire cast. Matthew Needham’s Giacomo is wickedly devious, conspiring to sleep with Imogen merely to win a wager with Posthumus. Needham, a Globe veteran, adds a touch of humour to the role highlighting the absurdity of the situation while constantly underpinning his character’s sinister nature. Ayad’s loyal Pisania is also noteworthy, particularly when subjected to torture from Cymbeline following Imogen’s disappearance. The fragility of Pisania as a lowly servant is a contrast to her fierce loyalty to Imogen, which is something Ayad delivers with great ease. Lacey’s Cloten is crafted as a parody of an urban gangster and although his character is instantly loathsome, Lacey does well to portray Cloten as a character to be scoffed at too.
The production is described in its programme as a ‘dance piece with text’ and it is certainly true that a lot of the talking is done through action rather than words. Christopher Akrill’s outstanding choreography gives this production an urban vibe, mixing a Shakespearean classic with a soundtrack featuring Stormzy and Daft Punk to create a breathtaking set of routines. Akrill demands a lot from his performers in his routines but his cast does not fail to deliver. Storytelling is also wonderful told through sign language, largely through Arviragus (William Grint) making this a superbly multi-sensory production. There are also a number of impressive fight scenes that make use of the whole stage, including the rafters, something rarely seen at Shakespeare’s Globe.
Jon Bausor’s designs help to encourage the inner city vibes that the soundtrack and choreography create. There is a real feeling of being in the underground urban city, soured with crime and drug use. It is with great subtlety that some of the play’s more intricate moments are hidden behind plastic sheets. Claire-Louise Cordwell’s Queen’s suicide is beautifully portrayed as a haunting image amid the blurred background and glistening lights. Bausor’s design mirrors a number of drug production labs ranging from cocaine to marijuana that does well to not detract from the plot itself. A drawback to the production as a whole, however, is that the focus particularly on the rife nature of drug use appears to disappear in the second half, despite being prevalent in the first.
This is a fresh, exciting reimagining of Cymbeline to make the production finally reflect who it is really about – Imogen. Dunster’s production is wild and entertaining, encouraging a new style of audience to Shakespeare’s Globe. It is a triumph in turning a not so well known Shakespeare play into one that’s recognisable but engaging for a modern audience.
Runs until 16 October 2016| Image: Tristram Kenton