Image © Tristram Kenton
The hallmark of Emma Rice's inaugural season as Artistic Director at the Globe has been drawing out the feminine experience from Shakespeare's canon. Imogen (or rather "Cymbeline renamed and reclaimed") places the focus firmly on the Cymbeline's daughter rather than the monarch whose rash actions precipitates the play's unfortunate chain of events.
While Imogen/Cymbeline thematically shares some its DNA with has traces of King Lear, Titus Andronicus and Othello, it also falls within the camp of Shakespeare later 'romances' which at their core deal with daughters' strained relationships with their fathers.
Unlike King Lear which it is set in some indeterminate time of pre-Christian Britain, the original text of Cymbeline is set during post-Roman invasion of Britain 2,000+ years ago. Director Matthew Dunster's production brings the play bang up to date, with the Britons wearing black Adidas sportswear and the Romans dress in white 'bling' apparel'. This is a Britain where gangs and drugs are the real sources of power and conflict on the streets, with Cymbeline himself the No 1 drug dealer. Cymbeline's own defiant reference to not paying tribute to Rome (the EU) takes on new significance in post-Brexit Britain, territories are redrawn and alliances severed.
Playing the eponymous heroine, Maddy Hill's Imogen is anything but flotsum and jetsam to the world at large. She more than holds her own against he would-be suitor/stepbrother Cleton (Joshua Lacey) and her final rebuttal of Giacomo (Matthew Needham) who besmirched her fidelity and reputation is met with suitable mettle. Admittedly, Imogen at one point follows the familiar Shakespearean trope of adopting a male identity so that she can travel safely, but if anything it makes even more sense within the context of the play why it is important.
Of the other female characters in the play, the two that have the most impact one way or another on her life are her stepmother the Queen (Claire Louise Cordwell) and Pisania (Leila Ayad) – both strong women, but whose motives and attitude towards civil duty and marriage contrast with Imogen's.
In some ways it shouldn't be mentioned at all, but it was good to see William Grint – a deaf actor – play Arviragus, one of Imogen's long-lost brothers. This production of Imogen had cast members from different levels of theatrical experience and all walks of life, and it was appropriate in that spirit that the deaf community should be represented too.
Far from being a dusty curio of limited interest, Imogen has something for everyone and would be of especial interest and relevance to older teenagers in education. As for the post-curtain call dance sequence, its place in the show reminded me of the the very end of Slumdog Millionaire – not in terms of its style, but its positive energy that's true to its cultural roots, a celebration after the previous insurmountable adversity.
© Michael Davis 2016
Imogen runs at the Globe Theatre until 16th October 2016.