I understand that the title may seem harsh, but the contrast between the performance of Macbeth and the performance of Imogen was extremely different.
Yesterday I saw a performance of Imogen– don’t recognize the title? That’s because it’s a “renamed and reclaimed” performance of Cymbeline, by William Shakespeare. It was set in modern day London, most likely rooted in the East End of London. East London has kept a bad reputation as an area of dangerous activity for a very long time. In the 1960’s East London was known as the playground for the Kray Twins, who were arguably the most famous gangsters in London. I wish I had seen this performance last week before my dialect class because we were still studying the East London dialect! It was awesome to be able to hear and soak up the accents from the performance. With the location comes an almost gratuitous amount of violence. In the program (extremely worth the four quid), director Matthew Dunster writes about the focus of violence and masculinity that he believes is too often overlooked in Cymbeline. “…and what I’ve tried to do is strip away as much of the fairy tale as possible, so that we’re left with a very dramatic, tense masculine world, in which our heroine, Imogen, has to fight for a place and a voice.” Although it was focusing on a world filled with masculinity, there was no percentage of weak females. The queen, Imogen, her servants-every female (or maybe not female character) was extremely strong. Because I’ve never seen Cymbeline before I cannot say which characters were cast against their original sex or not, but did it matter? Absolutely not.
I’ve never been a fashion fiend, brand hog, or really ever a fan of tracksuits, but this show filled me with a strange yearning for brand name athleisure wear (athletic leisure wear, look it up). Every character was dressed head to toe in brand name clothing that 1)I hope they had a great sponsorship deal or 2) they had an extremely huge costume budget. Also, as someone who has worked in a theatre costume shop, I was stunned by the thought: “What detergent do they use to get out all of these blood stains so well?!” I realize that using brand names also adds to the social status of the characters, as most of the characters in this play are either royalty or members of the royal court.
Continuing the concept of a more violent and tense environment, the play focused on gangs rather than kingdoms. So drugs were a very big part of this show-honestly, without the drug warfare the modernization wouldn’t have worked at all. It really helped to flesh out the concept and the world of the play. I think that was a big part that was missing for Macbeth, was their world of the play. Thinking back on the production there were so many parts that were not explained or seemed like they were chosen out of last-minute desperation. Cocaine is a HUGE drug in modern London, and of course marijuana use is just as popular here as it is in the USA. So Brittany (Cymbeline’s army/gang) was selling cocaine, and Belarius’s “gang” (more like an extremely tense family) sold marijuana. It created the warlike tension between kingdoms in a completely realistic way.
Our stage combat teachers: Rachel, Beth Ann, and Ruth all directed and choreographed the combat for this play, which is so unbelievably awesome that we got to see their work in motion. I found a video from the Globe’s website showing the final rehearsal stages of their flying fighting choreography. What? Flying fighting choreography, in the Globe? How is that even possible, you silly girl! WELL IT IS POSSIBLE AND IT IS AMAZING. They installed ladders and ceiling rails that actors performed Matrix-like moves on. It was absolutely incredible to watch. It was a very violent show, so for any of you who shudder at the slightest push I may not recommend this play for you. My jaw was completely dropped during the fight sequence. The cast of this show was the most physically fit cast I have ever seen. Almost every actor had rock hard abs and thighs of steel-pretty, uh, yeah. With such physically demanding shows like these I know it is safer as a director to cast someone who is very physically fit. They are (most likely, no guarantee, of course) less likely to become hurt during rehearsals and more likely to execute repeated moves with higher stamina. SO, there is being physical on stage and having a certain physicality on stage. An actor’s physicality can immediately convey many qualities about a character. Clotten, the most ridiculously haughty son of the queen, walked like the most proud rooster you had ever seen. I couldn’t help but laugh every time he entered because of how obvious his pseudo-confidence was. An actor’s physicality can also show how a character wants other’s to view them rather than how he/she views themselves. More often than not, a specific setting brings specific physicality. Because this production was set in modern East London, there is the stereotype of the young “gangsta” who carries themselves in exactly the same ridiculous nature. Every actor embodied this physicality to some degree, but it was the most extreme in Clotten (played by Joshua Lacey). Oh, Clotten.
In the beginning of the show, Imogen’s brothers are kidnapped by Belarius and assumed dead. Belarius (weed king) raises them as his own for the next twenty years, until the end of the play where they are reunited with their father Cymbeline. Arviragus, one of the brothers, was played by a deaf actor. From what I could hear in the text they described this brother as “gentler” or “more feeling,” or something similar to that.I can not describe how beautiful some of the moments with Arviragus were. When Imogen (disguised as Fideli) is assumed dead, Arviragus gave the eulogy. Whenever there were moments of just Arviragus signing (not talking, remember), I could feel the entire audience lean in and watch him. We met William Grint, the actor, after the show and he was so incredibly sweet. He signed all of our programs and thanked us for coming to the show. I don’t really think this casting choice had anything to do with the modernization of the play, but it made such a strong impact on the show. I will never forget it. The most moving moment is when Belarius is signing and explaining to the brothers how he wasn’t their true father and he had to leave them with Cymbeline. Seeing a strong masculine character start to cry is-whoo-moving. Also, the moment of silence as Cymbeline and Arviragus are signing to each other as Cymbeline recognizes his son was ab-so-lute-ly be-au-ti-ful.
A good performance inspires you to perform. It’s not a form of jealousy, it’s about sharing the passion. In all my post-performance state of excitement, I kept thinking about how badly I missed performing and being in a show. I would say that seeing a great basketball player or an impassioned speaker would inspire the same reactions. I am a very… expressive person. Many times I do not realize that I am reacting to something or many times I cannot control a reaction. Let me just say that my chortles have made people move in a movie theatre. I was at the very front and center of the standing area, so my reactions were very visible to the actors and to many of the audience members. Probably the most heightened reaction was a yell during the last scene. Giachimo, the villain, kneels in surrender to Posthumus (romantic male lead) and pleads for mercy. Imogen, enraged, kicks down Giachimo and forces her power over him in a “no, you will answer to ME!” kind of line. Right after this line a loud and joyous “YYYYEEEESSS!” arose from my depths. I quickly covered my mouth as I realized what I had just done while those around me giggled at my exclamation. It was the same kind of reaction that you see during a passionate sermon. A “HALLELUJAH” to the feminist gods, if you will. Maybe I should develop my own ranking of shows based on my level of reactions! hah. There was a hip-hop dance after the show (see a habit here?) that seemed filled with joy and energy. I’ve got to admit, we were a fantastic audience, and the audience truly determines the outcome of the show (to a certain degree). You could just see the energy in their faces while they were dancing, they were so happy that we were happy. It’s the best drug in the world and you can’t put any amount of money on that.
My only qualm is that there could’ve been more interaction or eye contact with the lower audiences. That’s it, really.