David Patrick Flemming and Kaitlyn Riordan brave one of the Bard’s lesser-known works in Cymbeline’s Reign.
CYMBELINE’S REIGN by William Shakespeare, adapted by Andrew Joseph Richardson (Shakespeare in the Ruff). At Withrow Park (725 Logan). Runs to August 31. Pwyc ($15 sugg). See listings. shakespeareintheruff.com. Rating: NNNN
Now in their third season of enchanting east-end audiences in Withrow Park with clever interpretations of some of the Bard's lesser-known works, Shakespeare in the Ruff and its artistic director, Brendan McMurtry-Howlett, have again upped the degree of difficulty, turning the complex and often overlooked romance Cymbeline into a fun, action-filled romp.
Andrew Joseph Richardson's adaptation streamlines the action by eliminating some extraneous characters and locations, but keeps most of the Bard's verse intact. Only hardcore Shakespeare buffs will notice the tweaks.
Set in ancient Britain at the height of the Roman Empire, the action centres around the weak King Cymbeline (Hume Baugh) and his fading court. He banishes his daughter, Imogen's (Kaitlyn Riordan), true love, Posthumus (Jesse Griffiths), to Rome in a bid to marry her to his meddling second wife's (Melee Hutton) doltish son (Richardson) from a previous marriage. Complicating matters even more, the Queen has convinced Cymbeline to end tribute payments to the Romans, triggering a military invasion of the isle.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of McMurty-Howlett's approach to Shakespeare is the whimsical, tongue-in-cheek humour he works into nearly every scene. The actors always seem to be having fun, but this time David Patrick Flemming's Iachimo - a sleazy, vainglorious Roman who attempts to woo Imogen in Posthumus's absence - is the comedic standout thanks to an over-the-top Italian accent. Flemming's cartoonish shtick becomes a great running gag, and lightens up the otherwise creepy and disturbing scene where Iachimo prowls through Imogen's bedroom while she sleeps.
The company is also skilful at conveying the meaning behind the often flowery and arcane verse. Despite the twists and turns and disguises, the plot is made easy enough to follow - especially with the help of a handy primer included in the program.
Unlike some of Shakespeare's other romances, Cymbeline moves along at a quick clip, and features some epic sword fights that fight director Jonathan Purvis makes visually compelling with neat acrobatic flourishes. Adding to the production are some stunning set surprises from designer Amanda Wong and the company's inventive use of the verdant park space around the stage area.