Bard on the Beach tackles Cymbeline; directed by Anita Rochon

Daniel J. Rowe

It’s romantic, it’s tragic, it’s funny, it’s violent and it’s intriguing and gripping from cover to cover.

Gerry Mackay's Cymbeline is stoic and angry, Shawn Macdonald's Queen duplicitous at Bard on the Beach. photo credit - David Blue
Gerry Mackay’s Cymbeline is stoic and angry, Shawn Macdonald’s Queen duplicitous at Bard on the Beach.
photo credit – David Blue

Vancouver, BC’s Bard on the Beach picked Cymbeline in 2014 as one of its four productions, and  this humble brawler let out a booyeah to be sure. It is one of Shakespeare’s most underrated, exciting and shocking plays.

It was the play I was most excited to check out this year, and the first one I took in.

Anita Rochon directs this late Jacobin-era Shakespearean play (fifth from last) set in the young Roman province of Britain during the imperial reign of Caesar Augustus at the Shakespeare festival this year.

Rochon pulls back with her choice of sets, costumes, and colours, and keeps things simple, while she pushes the energy and rhythm of the performance. She guides the ensemble cast like a team that fences its way through banishment, international struggle and redemption.

…and, you know, what happens to Cloten.

Dang this play is fun.

The six male actors swap roles and circle the female lead Imogen (Rachel Cairns), the daughter of king Cymbeline (Gerry Mackay), who tries along with his queen to force Imogen to marry her stepbrother Cloten and abandon her true love Posthumus that she’s already chosen. You know, standard boy meets girl then girl’s dad gets involved with new wife kind of stuff. Cairns is a standout in the production balancing the swirl of male actors that make up the rest of the ensemble with a steady and powerful presence on stage.

Anton Lipovetsky plays Posthumus, Cloten and Arviragus. Yep. All three. For those that haven’t read or seen the play, Lipovetsky is the romantic lead, the villain and the prodigal son in the same play. Yikes. Someone’s high school drama teacher is proud.

The audience’s laughs at the scheming queen (Shawn Macdonald) and bumbling Cloten soon dry up when the play takes a dramatic dark turn in the second half. I didn’t know what to make of the comedic tone when I first saw it. Cloten and his mother are Cymbeline’s answer to Joffrey Baratheon and Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones; deceitful, despicable characters, and need a touch more evil running through their lines than Macdonald and Lipovetsky gave them I thought originally.

After thinking about it for a while, however, and speaking with the director, I kind of liked the chaos the contrast created. Rochon compared the play to Breaking Bad; sometimes funny, and sometimes so horribly tragic you want to close your eyes for the next week. I like the comparison.

The audience, at points, were laughing at lines and scenes that had no comedy at all. Now who’s going crazy?

Cymbeline/ jailor Mackay got a few of these, which kind of made me laugh. I’ve seen Mackay play Cassius, Alcibiades, Leontes and Achilles in various productions in past years, and was excited that he would be the king this year. He’s always an intense presence on stage.

Take those that were smiling and chuckling as Cloten delivered this monologue:

Posthumus, thy head, which now is growing upon thy shoulders, shall within this hour be off; thy mistress enforced; thy garments cut to pieces before thy face: and all this done, spurn her home to her father; who may haply be a little angry for my so rough usage; but my mother, having power of his testiness, shall turn all into my commendations. My horse is tied up safe: out, sword, and to a sore purpose! Fortune, put them into my hand! – Act IV, i

If you’re laughing at that, you may have already broken bad.

Shakespeare broke bad half a millenia before Vince Gilligan did in Cymbeline. photo credit -
Shakespeare broke bad half a millenia before Vince Gilligan did in Cymbeline.
photo credit – David Blue

Cymbeline is a crazy mosaic of plot points, locale switches, emotional shifts and reveals that come together so nicely in Rochon’s production I like it more and more as I think of it.

If you like to brawl with the bard (BING), you’ll like this play.

The crowds will always flock to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet, and one of the joys of Bard on the Beach is that the troupe always balances the seat fillers with lesser known selections from the Bard’s cannon.

I sometimes wonder why great plays like Timon of Athens, Troilus and Cressida and Cymbeline aren’t more popular, but, in the end, that probably has something to do with why I like them so much.

Indie cred; always important in the oh-so-hip Shakespearean appreciation societies.

Those in Vancouver would do well to catch this production before the summer sun has left and the rain set in on the west coast.   Bard Logo triangle

BB: King Lear, Act II

Artwork - Leigh MacRae
Artwork – Leigh MacRae

Listen to or download the podcast. (Thank you to Jack Konorska for the intro music.)

Welcome Brawlers to act II of the absolutely awesome King Lear!

When we stopped at the end of act I, a whole whack of crazy stuff had already happened.

King Lear had disowned his daughter Cordelia and divided his kingdom between his two other daughters. He’d also banished his most trusted advisor, Kent – so trusted in fact that he comes back to Lear in disguise to continue to serve his king. Lear tried staying with Goneril but she wouldn’t let his friends sleep over so he picked up and left, hoping Regan would be okay with he and his buddies hanging around for a bit. We also saw how Gloucester’s bastard son, Edmund, had managed to implicate his older bother Edgar in a fictitious plot to kill their father. (If you missed it, you’ll want to go back and read up on act I.)

Well, that’s nothing compared to what’s just over the horizon by the time we get to the end of act II.

In act II, scene 1 we spy Edmond in his father Gloucester’s castle. He has just been told the news that his father is going to be at the caste that night. He sees a perfect opportunity to further implicate Edgar in this made-up conspiracy. Edmund convinces Edgar to flee and Edmund pretends to be trying to stop him. He even cuts his own arm to make his attempted arrest more convincing. After Edgar flees, Gloucester arrives and Edmond paints a not-so-pretty picture of his Edgar tried to convince him to join in the conspiracy and that they fought when Edmund refused. Gloucester promises to give Edmund all of his lands if he hunts down Edgar. Cornwall and Regan arrive (apparently they’re staying at Gloucester’s castle now) and Gloucester whines to them about his recent troubles with his son. They don’t seem too interested; they’re trying to figure out how to manage dad.

Kent was sent on ahead to Gloucester’s castle in act I, scene 5 and in act II, scene 2 Kent arrives at the gates and runs into Oswald. Kent seems to know that Oswald is nothing more than the two daughters’ glorified lackey and tells him what he thinks of him in his typical well-considered and reasoned way:

A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a
base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited,
hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a
lily-livered, action-taking knave, a whoreson,
glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogue;
one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a
bawd, in way of good service, and art nothing but
the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar,
and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch: one whom I
will beat into clamorous whining, if thou deniest
the least syllable of thy addition.

(Translation: “Oswald, you are a worthless sack of s__t!”)

Kent draws his sword and threatens to kill Oswald who yells out for help. Edmond, Cornwall, Regan and Gloucester show up and find a still-defiant Kent. They exchange a few words – which Cornwall and Regan clearly do not appreciate – and Kent is placed in the stocks. Gloucester protests but no one’s really been listening to him since the beginning of the play anyhow so why would anyone care now?

Scene 3 is actually just a soliloquy, the first spoken by Edgar. Whether he knows yet that he has been set up or not, he knows he’s a dead man if anybody finds him. So, in true Shakespearean fashion he decides to don a disguise. He decides to play Tom o’Bedlam which is actually less of a real character and more of a character type. The name Tom o’Bedlam refers to a rather famous ‘hospital’ in London, founded in the 13th century: the Bethlem Royal Hospital. essentially, he’s playing an escaped mental patient who thinks he is being pursued by the devil.

Small detail: King Lear is set several centuries prior to the foundation of Bedlam. Oh well. Shakespeare never was one for being slowed down by fact-checking. (Best example: the infamous sea-shores of Bohemia in The Winter’s Tale.)

The final scene of act II is a lengthy one which starts with Lear arriving at Gloucester’s castle and ends with him banished into the wilderness. When he arrives he first finds his messenger Kent (in disguise) locked in the stocks. Of course, he’s pissed that his messenger was treated this way but powerless to do anything about it. Gloucester meets with him outside the caster and tells them that Regan and Cornwall are sick and won’t meet with him. Sound familiar?

Gloucester does manage to return with them in tow. He’s happy to see her but that quickly changes when she sides with Goneril. In fact, she tries to send him back but Goneril herself shows up. He pleads with them and after a little back and forth they both agree: “why do you even need a single follower when our entire household stands ready to serve you, dad?” They mutually agree to take him in only if he comes alone, without his buddies.

I have to admit, in some ways, that doesn’t sound unreasonable. Too bad they then order their servants not to invite Lear to stay. Cornwall gives the order to lock the doors. Of course, throughout the scene there’s plenty more of the Fool’s “I told you so, nuncle” wisdom.

King Lear is all very Game of Thrones. Or so Daniel, Zoey, Stephanie, Jay and just about anybody else over the age of 12 with access to the internet or TV has told me.

I do know that Sean Bean dies in season 1. I would apologize for ruining it but I’m sure any one of these memes has beat me to it.

I also know you can buy a replica of the throne itself for the modest sum of $30 000… plus a negligible shipping fee of $1 800 dollars. Why is it so expensive? Because it’s made with real fiber-glass resin. Or, you could choose to buy any one of several of these 1967 Ford Mustangs for the same price. They’re made of metal.

Bard Brawl consensus is that Game of Thrones has more boobs, shlongs, dongs and dragons than Lear but, a comparable amount of heartless treachery and back-stabbing.

Not so fast! King Lear has already told us that he’s a dragon, right? “Peace Kent / Come not between the dragon and his wrath.” (I’m totally going to write that in my thesis for big bonus points!) That’s at least one.

And when the Bard Brawl finally convinces to get HBO to do a complete works of William Shakespeare à la BBC Television Shakespeare, I’m sure that we can slip in more than enough dongs and boobs to keep everyone happy. Edmund does woo both Goneril and Regan. Knowing Edmund, I’m sure they haven’t just been talking on the phone all night and holding hands when they go to the movies. If nothing else, Cordelia must sleep with the King of France on their wedding night.

I’m sure they’ll return our emails any day now!

Join us next week when we will see crazy Lear conducts the weather, a disappearing fool who seems to be friends with Merlin for some reason, Edgar trying way hard to out-crazy Lear, and poor clueless Gloucester who gets it worse than Sean Bean in any of these death scenes.

And if I can find the time, we’ll talk about the planets, the stars and the weather.

Sonnet 28 read by Erin Marie Byrnes.

(Podcast recorded and edited by Daniel J. Rowe, Show notes by Eric Jean)

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