A directorial first for Trevor Nunn

Cymbeline, by William Shakespeare, Arts Theatre, Cambridge until Oct 6This production of a Shakespeare play was bound to be a bit special. It marks the centenary of the Marlowe Society, probably the most influential amateur dramatic society around.

Cymbeline, by William Shakespeare, Arts Theatre, Cambridge until Oct 6

This production of a Shakespeare play was bound to be a bit special. It marks the centenary of the Marlowe Society, probably the most influential amateur dramatic society around. Since 1907 talented Cambridge University students have gravitated there, making it one of the stage's principal breeding grounds. Michael Redgrave, Peter Hall himself, Ian McKellen, Griff Rhys Jones, Clive Swift, Derek Jacobi - the alumni list goes on and on.

To have another of their number, the Ipswich-born Sir Trevor Nunn, back to direct the centenary show puts the icing on the cake. He's never before directed Cymbeline, but he has acted in it - with the Marlow Society in 1960, along with Jacobi, McKellen, Corin Redgrave and the novelist Margaret Drabble when they were all students together.

Cymbeline was very popular in the nineteenth century, but is less often staged these days. It has all the makings of tragedy but comes in as a comedy. The stage isn't littered with corpses at the end. Quite the reverse. Everybody is in forgiveness and reconciliation mode. The slate is wiped clean ever over the most desperate injustices. Lots of the Shakespeare tragic elements are there - a wicked queen, madness leading to suicide, a Lear-like harsh treatment of an innocent daughter, a Machiavellian Iago figure, lovers that are almost but not quite ill-starr'd, destructive male jealousy, a girl disguising herself as a boy, lost brothers , potions that make you appear dead and even a Banquo style cut-off head .


You may also want to watch:


Without doubt, the play's flawed. King Cymbeline is as daft as a brush, there's a strange often-dropped dream sequence, and the plot convolutions make it inevitable that main characters disappear from the action for long stretches.

But forget that. It's totally absorbing as a play. The energy, commitment, clarity and expertise of the performances make it quite stunning. Student drama, I remember myself - with everyone the same age, all thinking the world's there to conquer, is something very special.

Most Read

Trevor Nunn handles the endless revelations, the dream sequence and much else, tongue-in- cheek, which the audience loves. It looks terrific - simple, except for candlebra, swirling coloured mists and costume box. And the cast will never have experienced stagecraft like it.

Did I see a star in the making? We shall certainly hear more of James Norton

(Posthumus) and Max Bennett (Iachimo). But Lizzie Crarar (Imogen) is so good she brings tears to the eyes. Remember the name.

Ivan Howlett

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter