Review: Cymbeline’s Reign (Shakespeare in the Ruff)

Shakespeare in the Ruff brings an al fresco theatre element to Cymbeline’s Reign in Toronto’s Withrow Park

There is always something special about outdoor theatre — it destroys traditional barriers as, unlike in a traditional theatre, there is very little separation from actors and audience. By virtue of the location, a show has to embrace its environment. For a Shakespearean adaptation, an outdoor venue is a return to form that can either rework the Bard for a contemporary audience or fall into the forgettable traditional style.

Shakespeare in the Ruff’s Cymbeline’s Reign — an adaptation, according to the programme — is a show that is not easily forgotten — even if you have the misfortune of being rained out three-quarters through. In fact, Cymbeline’s Reign is an example of how to do Shakespeare without ever losing an important, contemporary edge.

Cymbeline’s Reign is a love story. The princess Imogen (Kaitlyn Riordan) marries the orphan Posthumous (Jesse Griffiths) behind her father Cymbeline’s (Hume Baugh), back. In anger, Cymbeline banishes Posthumous and orders Imogen never to see him again. Meanwhile, the Queen (Melee Hutton) — Imogen’s stepmother — manipulates the situation by attempting to position her son Cloten (Andrew Joseph Richardon) to be the next king.

Personally, I was so invested in the performance that I have no idea where to begin my review. My friend pointed out Hume Baugh’s amazing character change between King Cymbeline who dominated the stage and the amiable Frenchman met in exile. There was also Richardon’s man-child interpretation of Cloten; he made the character dangerous because his petulance made him more likely to take insult, and therefore retaliate. And Riordan’s Imogen was so wonderfully three-dimensional that I understood why Posthumous loved her. We were given a real person to care for and it stood out in a play dominated by men.

Despite the amazing work of the entire cast, David Patrick Flemming was the highlight of the show. His scene as the duplicitous Iachimo, who sneaks into Imogen’s bedroom to gather information to fool her lover into thinking he slept with her, is an exact balance between evil and comedy. Flemming’s Iachimo is almost a mustache-twirling villain and yet his strange charm and joy at being so slimy gives just enough darkness to his performance that the audience is not asked to like him, but to take everything he does as morally reprehensible.

I give credit to Brendan McMurtry-Howlett’s direction: the actors were allowed to use the space and they presented their arguments to the audience as though pleading their cases. It was both compelling and intimate.

Shakespeare in the Ruff does provide some blankets and chairs if you forget to bring your own. Also, while I don’t think Cymbeline’s Reign is an all-ages show, the audience was all-ages and the kids seemed to enjoy it.

I see it as a testament to the production that despite the first delay caused by rain, they stuck around gamely and, when the stage manager called the show a second time, the audience applauded the actors and took time to pick-up complimentary vouchers for another night. For myself, I am already looking to catch this one again.

Details

  • Cymbeline’s Reign runs until August 31 in Withrow Park (south of the Danforth on Logan Ave.) depending on weather; if there inclement weather, Cymbeline’s Reign will relocate to The Danforth Church (60 Bowden Street) check Shakespeare in the Ruff’s website for information
  • Shows run from Tuesday-Sunday at 7:30pm
  • Tickets are PWYC, recommended donation $15, cash only
  • Tickets are available at the box office in Withrow Park from 7:00pm
  • Seats and blankets can be reserved in advanced here

Photo of David Patrick Flemming as Iachimo courtesy Shakespeare in the Ruff

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