The reality myth and miss

Paul Taylor on the rarely sighted `Cymbeline' and `Camino Real' at Stratford

Shakespeare's Cymbeline and Tennessee Williams' Camino Real are not the sort of plays that cause stampedes to the box-office, so, with the opening of both this week in Stratford, the RSC can't be accused of playing safe with repertoire. Towards the end of the Williams, one of the characters is moved to allude to the famous TS Eliot line that "Humankind cannot bear very much reality". After seeing these two works on consecutive evenings, you feel that it is humankinds' capacity to tolerate unreality that has been diligently tested.

A virtuoso exercise in tonal incongruities and discrepant emotional extremes, Cymbeline juxtaposes the wildly improbable and the piercingly heartfelt, the beautiful and the grotesque. This is pushed to the limit in the scene where the heroine Imogen, believed dead, is laid next to a decapitated corpse. When she comes round, the clothes trick her into thinking that this grizzly object is her husband. The audience knows that it is, in fact, her nasty ridiculous step-brother, Cloten, so her speech of stricken recognition is delivered in a context pregnant with black, bad-taste comedy.

The greatest asset in Adrian Noble's main-stage production at Stratford is Joanne Pearce, who, in the role of Imogen, has the flexibility to present her at some moments with a kind of warm, playful detachment and, at others, with a stunning emotional raptness.

In this heavily cut version of the play, pre-Christian Britain and the Rome with which she is in conflict over tributes have been given a strongly oriental look - Two Little Maids from School meet the Seven Samurai in a bare blue box within which a huge, sail-like white sheet is raised and lowered to define the various locations. Characters trip on and off via a ramp that extends down one of the aisles. Notwithstanding all this distancing exoticism, Cymbeline's lost sons - played with a droll artful artlessness by Richard Cant and Joe Stone-Fewings - speak with the broad Welsh accents of the wilds where they've been reared.

Noble makes the complicated proceedings unusually clear - the mind-knotting expository dialogue between the first and second gentlemen at the start has been re-cast and reduced to a scene-setting narrative told by the soothsayer to a nomadic tribe sitting round a flaming dish. This puts the production on the right fable-like lines. Shades of the Victorian pantomime villain are perhaps evoked too strongly in Paul Freeman's smooth dastard of a Iachimo, but Guy Henry interestingly turns Cloten into an effete class-conscious dimwit who - in a way that is almost pathetic - knows deep-down he is a born loser.

Tennessee Williams once revealed that he got the germ of Camino Real from the sudden fear he once experienced, as he watched a torch-carrying procession in Mexico, of Dying in an Unknown Place. In Camino Real, that place has become thoroughgoingly mythical: a desiccated, out-of-time, central American coastal town, with a desert beyond its ancient walls. Stranded here are a group of romantic non-conformists from history and literature who are presented as past their sell-by date (they include Casanova, Marguerite Gautier, Don Quixote, and Lord Byron). They are joined by another has-been, Kilroy, an American vagrant who was once a champion boxer but had to ditch his career because his heart's "as big as the head of a baby".

Darrell d'Silva brings Kilroy engagingly to life in Steven Pimlott's atmospheric, bustling, and endless-seeming production. But, as a play about the fate of the romantic in modern society, the piece can only offer an inert allegorical conflict between characters who have an unearned poignancy by virtue of their contrived temporal position and caricature baddies.

Moving performances from Susannah York as Marguerite and Peter Egan as Casanaova did not prevent the experience of watching this long and heavy- handed play from feeling like a chore. It's the kind of work you can enjoy the virtue of having seen. Once.

`Cymbeline' is at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre; `Camino Real' at the Swan. Both in rep. Booking: 01789 295623

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus brought her Bangerz tour to London's O2 Arena last night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams' life story will be told in a biography written by a New York Times reporter

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
    Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

    From strung out to playing strings

    Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
    The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
    Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

    Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

    The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
    On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

    On the road to nowhere

    A Routemaster trip to remember
    Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

    Hotel India

    Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
    10 best pencil cases

    Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

    Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
    Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

    Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

    Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
    Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

    Pete Jenson: A Different League

    Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
    This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

    The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

    Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis