Photo: Manon Halliburton as Cymbeline
William Shakespeare’s CYMBELINE is fresh, emotional and gritty under the excellent direction of Karen Paisley at the MET.
After the disappearance of her two oldest children, Queen Cymbeline has a single heir to her kingdom – a daughter named Imogen. To ensure the future success of her kingdom, Cymbeline arranges for Imogen to marry Cloten, the son of The Duke. Unfortunately for Cymbeline, Imogen has her own ideas, and secretly marries her childhood friend Posthumus Leonatus, a commoner who was orphaned at birth. After they are caught trying to run away together, Imogen and Posthumus are separated and many attempts are made by different characters to turn Imogen’s heart away from her true love. With the titular role normally performed by a man, this CYMBELINE has women simultaneously objectified and honored, and powerful men falling hard. It is a story of love, betrayal, murder, and intrigue as only Shakespeare can write it.
The story mostly takes place in Cymbeline’s kingdom, but stretches to Rome, the forests of Wales, and the battlefields of Britain. Instead of palace walls and trees you would expect to see for this production, Paisley chose to forgo typical set designs and stage the entire production using a series of wooden platforms set at odd angles. The costuming is similarly atypical of a Shakespeare production, featuring an odd assortment of denim, camouflage, metal spikes, and boots. Done this way, it is impossible to pinpoint a time period for the story since it could be any time in history, or in a far distant post-apocalyptic, Mad Max type future. The overall effect is gritty, dystopian and absolutely perfect.
Queen Cymbeline is exactly the type of ruler you would hope to see in this kingdom. Manon Halliburton plays her part with equal parts iron and fire, yet also brings us to tears with her raw grief. In perfect contrast, Marie Warner, as Imogen, is soft, sweet, and lovable, yet also strong and determined. Together, these women create the core of a conflict that is not just believable, it is undeniable.
Fortunately, Halliburton and Warner are not the only superstar performers in this production. Instead, we get to see a whole cast of talented performers who play their characters to perfection and have an obvious understanding of the material. They deliver every joke and sarcastic sneer perfectly, and create dramatic moments powerful enough to pull collective gasps of surprise from the audience.
CYMBELINE, like all of Shakespeare’s plays, is not an easy show to take on. It takes a talented cast and creative team to bring the story to life in a way that modern audiences will appreciate. The team at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre took some interesting risks while producing this show, and they paid off in a big way. The entire production is a resounding success.
CYMBELINE is playing at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre through November 26, 2017.