Cymbeline, Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon Avon

Fashion trivialises this tale, which is already silly
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The Independent Culture

Given that Cymbeline is such a mishmash - the Roman invasion of Britain, decadent aristocrats making a wager on a lady's honour, magic potions, stolen babies - one expects at least some visual coherence. Yet, in Dominic Cooke's production, the design, by Rae Smith, piles artifice on confusion.

King Cymbeline and his queen have feather cloaks, their lords feather collars. The king's daughter, Imogen, strides about in a Greek goddess gown, while the queen's son, the nefarious Cloten, swanks about in a diamante number. All this fashion distraction trivialises the story, which is already pretty silly.

The performances are a mixed bag as well. As Imogen's stepmother, the bad queen, Ishia Bennison swaggers about on high heels, sticking out a hip and hoisting her shoulders up and down. Her supposedly seductive manner is common and kittenish, her scorn mere petulance. The triumph of the good never seems in doubt when evil is so lacking. Likewise Paul Chahidi, while entertainingly absurd as the foolish Cloten, has none of the character's brutality.

In the second half, though, when the costumes have been stained by mud and blood, the playing increases in force as well. Christopher Godwin is charming as the banished lord who has spirited away the king's two young sons (Daniel Hawksford and Simon Trinder), and together they make a spirited family. The torment of Daniel Evans's Posthumus also comes into focus more strongly.

But the evening belongs to Emma Fielding. Her Imogen may lack vulnerability, but she radiantly personifies virtue without being merely ladylike.

As Cymbeline, David Horovitch is certainly kingly, but I felt as if someone had just put on an old recording, with Paul Scofield in the part.

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