The first performance of Cymbeline, one of Shakespeare's less familiar plays, took place in the month of April, 1611. It was the first Shakespeare play I saw performed professionally, at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1958, with two friends from school. We stayed in a very uncomfortable B&B and queued for tickets each day, taking turns if only two cheap seats were available. This strange fairytale melodrama, with a preposterous plot, shifted between Roman Britain and "Augustan" Rome (with Frenchmen and ducats), including key scenes at Milford Haven in Wales.
|Posthumus and Imogen Henry J. Ford (Folger Shakespeare Library)|
The leading lady was Dame Peggy Ashcroft, already fifty, but totally memorable as a radiant and youthful Imogen on stage. "She is alone the Arabian bird,…"
I was lucky enough to see another memorable production at the Globe Theatre in 2001, with just six actors, including Mark Rylance and Abigail Thaw. Staged like a modern ballet, with dazzling choreography as the six players exchanged places and characters, as well as lines, it brought the text to the fore, although for me it lacked the enchantment of the Stratford Peter Hall production.
|Cymbeline at the Globe Theatre (reviewed in The Guardian newspaper)|
But it was witty and playful, even more so when the emergency understudy, who had to read his lines that day, had his book snatched from him by Rylance and was left speechless.
"…Speak, man; thy tongue
May take off some extremity, which to read
Would be even mortal to me.
….Please you, read; "