Exactly one month ago, I saw 'Pericles' produced by creative company Pistachio Choice. Now they have moved on to tackle another of Shakespeare's lesser-known plays, and the modus operandi is more or less the same, but no less enjoyable. In fact, I might go so far as to say that I enjoyed 'Cymbeline' more than 'Pericles', but it is a tough call.
'Cymbeline' was first performed around 1610. It has a rather complex plot which ranges over locations from Rome to ancient Britain. There are over 20 characters in the play, but these are dealt with here by a cast of just 5 actors: Ruth Rogers, Jerome Thompson, Caitlin Thorburn, Scott Wilson- Besgrove and Tim Wyatt. If the small size of the acting ensemble sounds something akin to butter being spread too thinly on dramatic bread, I don't think you need worry. This company have proved they have a knack of casting impressive actors, and the director here, Antonio Ferrara has latched-on to the company ethos and assembled a well-balanced, wholly professional and highly competent team. Of course, they each play several different characters, but as with their production of 'Pericles', this does not hamper the story development, or our understanding of the characterisations.
The title of the play actually refers to a king of Britain who reigned over a large part of the South-East of England in the late first century BC and who was known as Cunobeline (among other names). In fact, we do not see a great deal of him except at the start and end of the play, but it is the king who initiates a tragic sequence of events by banishing his adopted son Posthumus for secretly marrying his daughter, Imogen. In Rome, Posthumus manages to get himself into a wager with the rather nasty Iachimo who says he can seduce the beautiful and virtuous Imogen. When Iachimo lands in Britain he duly tries his luck with the fair maiden, fails miserably, and then pretends that he has actually managed to get her into bed with him. Back in Rome, Posthumus is devastated when he learns of Imogen's apparent infidelity, and ends up fighting in the ensuing war between the Romans and Britons. And when Imogen heads off to Wales to find Postumus, she bumps into Cymbeline's two long-lost sons who were stolen from the king when they were children.
Of course, this is a low-budget production, but Pistachio Choice prove handsomely that a mountain of cash is not always required to produce effective and stimulating work. What really makes this production is the quality and clarity of the storytelling, and that is the result of both articulate direction and a confident, highly talented cast. Though I found the descriptions of the Welsh characters a little yokelish for my taste, the performances are otherwise admirable and totally engaging. Although the plot is complex, contrived and convoluted, the production is successfully timed and paced, so there is never any sense of confusion or dislocation. Looking round the audience, everyone seemed as engrossed as I was.