Imogen

Shakespeare’s Globe, London (***)

If there was any doubt about Emma Rice’s determination to break with her predecessors, little will remain after Matthew Dunster’s `reclaimed and refocused’ Cymbeline.

 Now renamed Imogen – as befits, it’s pointed out, its heroine having the largest number of lines in the play – Dunster’s production of Shakespeare’s flawed late `romance’ and reconciliation drama is an extraordinary assault on the senses.

At least 75% of the time, this viewer was in rebellion against his vision of this supposedly pagan, Roman occupied Britain. Yet against all the odds and paradoxically, by the end, intensely proud. If you wanted a picture of the capital’s diversity and inclusivity, you couldn’t do better than the finale here with its stomping, stamping club-beat knees-up which I found strangely moving for all the production’s previous brutalised, drug-fixated imagery.

A violent picture of young contemporary London, Dunster’s bombarding in-yer-face style is not one that will endear itself to traditionalists with its track-suited, kerchief masked gangs, its plastic butcher curtains or racial and ability cast mix headed by EastEnders star Maddy Hill (Imogen) from whom Dunster seems to have taken his cue. All seem permanently stuck in estuary London accents, irrespective of social status, whether royal (King Cymbeline) or pauper.

Yet despite its excesses and omissions (so much more could have been made of its Brit-EU references), Imogen’s innocence and her unfair treatment at the hands of her jealous husband Posthumous – like so many Shakespearean spouses or partners, quick to judgement of their partner’s supposed adultery – eventually shines through the directorial razzamatazz.

There’s no doubt the production struck a chord over and over again, judging by the laughter and silence – and there’s nowhere like the Globe for telling you immediately whether an audience is gripped or not.

By any standards, Maddy Hill’s Imogen, too, is a triumph. Eloquent, agile and appealingly fervent, she’s matched by Matthew Needham as the wicked Giacomo, sent by Posthumous on a wager to prove his wife’s adultery. The rest of the cast work valiantly even – with its nod to The Matrix – to performing high-flying aerial combat.

Still, for some of us, it’s hard-going. Who knows what a visiting Martin might make of it…

Imogen runs at Shakespeare’s Globe to Oct 16, 2016

Review first published in Reviewsgate, Sept 2016