The Royal House of Britain is crumbling under strain. Princess Imogen, distraught after her low-born husband is banished by her father, takes matters into her own hands. Meanwhile, King Cymbeline himself struggles with the unresolved grief left by his missing sons. Further shaken by his daughter’s defiance and blind to the true nature of his treacherous wife, Cymbeline commits an act of petty defiance; one that could lead the entire kingdom into war against the world’s greatest empire…
Politics, pride, and a sinister bet collide with family, lovers and concealed identities in Shakespeare’s most genre-spanning tale. Directors: Simon Stallard, Bryan Hodgson
Who Said Shakespeare Wasn’t For Fringe Productions?
Who Said Theatre Company may not be performing the Scottish Play, but tonight it seems the old curse is very much present at The Space on the Isle of Dogs. Due to a blockage in the Blackwall Tunnel, the converted church, which only sits a few handfuls of people anyway, is empty apart from me. As if that wasn’t enough, the young company’s technician is also stuck in the traffic chaos. We agree that playing only for me might be just a bit too intimate, and instead settle for an interview on their current project, Cymbeline.
Six of the cast members join me to talk about their experiences with this rarely performed Shakespeare play. I am thoroughly impressed by the young cast’s professional attitude in the face of tonight’s disappointment – all the actors are cheerful and grateful for the interview. Have they ever had to cancel a show for lack of audience before, I ask? Luckily, the answer is a unanimous “no!”.
Q: You’ve been performing for a couple of nights now. How’s the run been going so far?
Laurence Ellerker (Guiderius): It’s been good. It very much feels like the show is still developing; each night’s been very different, it’s getting more slick, which is nice.
Sam Barrett (Posthumus): Because we’ve had rather small audiences the intimacy of it is very different to what you would usually get in a Shakespeare play, because you can spend time talking to each individual audience member. One night there were only males in the audience, and my character has a monologue which is all about how much women scorn men. And it felt amazing, I had all these men sitting on different sides of me (the stage is set in the middle of the space with the audience on all four sides) and I could just kind of direct this to each of them. That’s probably the best I’ve ever done that monologue, because when there’s women in the audience it’s almost awkward to do.
Q: Who Said is a very young theatre company. Can you tell me a bit about the company and your current project, Cymbeline?
Lukas Lee (Cymbeline): The owner of the company, Ethan Taylor, started this company when we left Guildford School of Acting two years ago, and he’s done plenty of Fringe shows, a bit smaller scale. But this year for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare, he wanted to put on Cymbeline, a much grander project compared to what he’s done before. So we’ve cast people from all walks of life, at different points in our careers, but it’s melded really well. There’s a very good sense of camaraderie and rallying together, and creating a piece that has a timeless feel.
Laurence: It’s been very interesting to do that as well with other Cymbeline’s going on around London, to see the differences. Obviously, we can’t really compare to the RSC (Cymbeline is playing at the Barbican until late December), but it’s cool to see the difference.
Lukas: And interestingly, just like the RSC, the directors of our Cymbeline decided to do some gender-swapping because of the actors they saw at the auditions and the strengths they recognised. For example, our Bellarius is actually a Bellaria.
Laurence: And it’s completely changed the relationships between the characters, because Bellaria has to get rid of her two children towards the end. It’s quite nice to see that relationship between her and her two sons.
Blake Barbiche (Innogen): And just like the RSC, we have a Pisania rather than a Pisanio, which I think makes that relationship a little easier to understand and relate to for contemporary audiences.
Q: How do you stage a complex piece like Cymbeline, with lots of intrigue, in a small space like this?
Laurence: We actually changed the space from the first week we were doing it.
Sebastian Humphreys (Arviragus): It used to be a traverse staging, but we found that with some of the more intricate scenes, that just wasn’t working for us.
Colin James (Cloten): It really depends where people sit as well. If all of a sudden all the people in the audience decide to sit on one side, it changes the way you have to play it. So you have to be a team player.
Sam: You have to be really dynamic, but that just keeps you on your toes.
Colin: That’s the fun with live theatre, there’s never a final version – every night is just different. The work’s never finished, no matter how well rehearsed you are.
Sebastian: You’d have to ask again in a week. (laughs)
Q: Is this a much bigger challenge than the fringe shows the company has previously put on?
Blake: The company actually changes with every show, but the production and the creative team stay the same. I’ve previously directed for Who Said. I think it’s definitely a show with very different demands, it’s much longer than contemporary plays, but I think the company should continue to explore more classical plays.
Sam: It’s nice to keep a diversity anyway.
Sebastian: And I think this cast is just very willing to experiment as well, which you need, because the text is well established, it’s been done so many times before. So everyone has to be quite willing to try something new all the time.
Lukas: The thing with performing Shakespeare as a Fringe is that you have to make some cuts as well, you have to be resourceful with the space you have, especially in things like battle scenes.
Sam: That’s the nice thing about Fringe, you have to always think: how do we make this amazing, with no budget? It keeps you on your toes. We’re not in theatre to see loads of money put into some amazing spectacle. I mean, sometimes you are, but it’s also really nice to see a basic, raw version of a story, because Shakespeare’s stories are amazing anyway.
Sebastian: And I think in Fringe, people are much more willing to accept that sort of experimental approach to Shakespeare as well. I know the Globe’s been getting a lot of flack for their choices in lighting and costume, and you just don’t get that in Fringe, which is nice.
By Maya Witter
5 December – 18 December 2016