‘Cymbeline(or, Imogen)’ by William Shakespeare DIR Robert Johnson

at Collingwood Yards 15 - 24 May 2024

THEATRE REVIEW by Meredith Fuller OAM Psychologist and Author

This rarely staged play is about love, forgiveness, grace and reconciliation as well as an adventurous romp. Funny, dynamic, and archetyal – I promise that you will have an evening of laughter and chuckles as well as imbibing culture and universal human themes that are still current today.

PINK FLOYD FANS please note the deep embedded message here!
Speaking of music, there were several eruptions into song and dancing that were superb. I haven’t laughed so much in ages. Fight scenes, a beheading…this play had everything. The choreography was stunning; these scenes were messy, believable, and inspired (especially the severed head).

‘Wars are waged, lovers betray and reconcile, and Gods walk among mortals’ in one of Shakespeare’s more uplifting plays. Around the time of writing this unusually positive play, he was beginning to mentor younger writers, and consider a return home after neglecting his wife for over 20 years while pursuing his career. He probably knew that she had the love and grace to forgive him; encouraging his interleaving of tragedy and comedy with a rare satisfying ending.

Director Robert Johnson has staged epics with huge casts and elaborate sets. This play has no set, only a couple of props, and the actors, audience and text are entwined in a cozy coming together. Very clever; we completely focused on dialogue and actors. We are exhorted to boo, hiss, cheer, and actively engage. Some of the audience volunteer to speak lines and others form a dyad of humour with two of the endearing actors who play secret Princes (Luke Hill-Smith and Fletcher Von Arx).

These two bumpkins were deliciously funny and real with sight gags every second. (Don’t miss the moment when father clouts a son for going down on the wrong knee)

Last night, the sexy ‘brothers’ flirted shamelessly with an elderly woman in the audience, and enticed another to feel his muscles (much to her delight).

Cymbeline rehearsal
Paul Armstrong Luke Hill-Smith Fletcher Von Arx

This play is about opposites – male/female, betrayal/forgiveness, war/peace, extroversion/introversion, and dark/light.

Appropriately, the two lovers (Alexander Tomisich and Eliza Armstrong) and the Queen and King (Alys Daroy and Alec Gilbert) demonstrated complementary characters with exterior and interior natures. This acting restraint was crucial alongside their flamboyant partners.

Having witnessed Eliza Armstrong’s wide range in a different play, I liked her smart choice of acting ‘back’ and subtle. She did have one particular scene crouching over her supposedly dead lover when she delivered an electric speech that gave me goosebumps. You cannot try to compete with a corpse, so she was able to execute an impassioned soliloquy as her ‘potent moment’.

Alexander Tomisich as Master of Ceremonies addressed the audience before the play began, with seductive camaraderie that engendered commitment. He is a natural performer who immediately takes his audience with him whatever he does.

He displayed an extraordinary ability to play two roles, switching so seamlessly we could be forgiven for assuming he really had dissociative identity disorder (multiple personalities). He was enabled to stand out with the backing of the cast because this was an ensemble effort and we appreciated that every actor contributed to the whole. Johnson casts intelligent, quality actors who always deliver.

The King was a well crafted performance with the right touch of menace in his voice and discomfort in showing affection.
Alec Gilbert played The King with dryness and minimal gesticulation in contrast to Alys Daroy who slithered, simpered, and snarled about the stage like a nasty femme fatale (akin to the prowess of Cate Blanchett)

Her Queen combined regal pomposity with visceral nastiness, demonstrating adroit acting talent. Her career trajectory should be one to monitor; I found her mesmerising. Her work was intelligent and commanding.

Like Shakespeare, Johnson casts young and emerging actors with accomplished professionals. This ensures admirable mentoring and growth for creative artists. His ability to work with actors of various ability and age (from children to seniors) also keeps theatre fresh and relevant for our society. His students did not disappoint.

When performing a Shakespearean play I think it is advisable to imagine the actors as star ballroom dancers who demand the surrender of their non-dancing audience-partners; to be pulled along to dance with fast pace and quick rhythm.

Shakespeare’s dialogue IS music; you must keep up to truly hear the melody.

The younger actors set a cracking pace from the outset, and the audience was challenged to quickly interpret complex dialogue. It is an exciting journey. A slower pace would be boring and turgid. How refreshing to see younger actors mastering linguistics alongside the accomplished actors. Johnson’s faith in his students was justified.

Iachimo/Belarius (Paul Armstrong) is brilliant. He embodies his characters effortlessly and commands the stage. What a treat to see him in the demanding plays that Robert Johnson directs.

Caius Lucius/Philario/Gaoler (Shane Palmer) was noteworthy in his strong support role; he had a respectful, intriguing presence.

A big well done to the crew – stage, lighting, music, sound, set, costume terrific. The minimalism was ideal, and the costumes gave us useful information about the characters. You can see the thoughtfulness and consideration that went into every little thing. The crew were impeccable.


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