A too-static production of Shakespeare's eccentric late play
This winter, the Globe is staging all four of Shakespeare's late plays indoors, by candlelight – in the intimate environment their magical transformations were written for. But although the name of this instalment has a fairytale ring to it, this play is more of a dark, wintry nightmare than a midsummer night's dream.
The title's Cymbeline is a tyrannical king of ancient Britain who banishes his daughter Inogen's husband Posthumus for being an unworthy commoner. Meanwhile his queen, played with all the lip-smacking relish of Snow White's evil stepmother by Pauline McLynn, is busily concocting poisons and plots to get her son Cloten (a hilariously priggish Calum Callaghan) on the throne. Next to these rogues, Innogen is a cross-dressing heroine to rival Rosalind of 'As You Like It' fame, ready to wear the trousers to stand by her man. But the clichés end there. Her surreal, emotionally intense trajectory takes in perverted spies hiding in trunks, long lost siblings, headless corpses, and even visitations from the god Jupiter. Emily Barber handles Innogen's constant reversals of fortune with aplomb, shifting from cutting put-downs to heartbroken collapse.
Even Shakespeare can't always take this improbable story seriously, and his text is full of knowing touches: 'You' have put me into rhyme!' shouts Posthumus, his syllables aligning in fury. But director Sam Yates' static staging is no match for the text's chaotic agility. This is Shakespeare for purists: period costume, precious few whimsical directorial touches and an emphasis on getting every word of this fascinating play across. All that's missing is a sprinkling of fairy dust to sweeten the deal.