Cymbeline (1984): Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
PRINCIPAL CAST: James Maxwell (Cymbeline); John McTeer (Imogen); Art Malik (Iachimo); Hugh Quarshie (Posthumus).
This production ran from 13 September - 20 October 1984.
"The first production of the Royal Exchange's new collective leadership is a tribute to their notion that five heads must be better than one, at least as far as directing plays is concerned. But where will it end? Would 20 directors be even better? Conceived and staged jointly by the new regime, with Braham Murray as the 'rehearser' to express their common voice, the show is a testimony to group practice....Because the product of their co-operation is a smashing show, Cymbeline must be one of Shakespeare's silliest plays and a challenge to anyone - or any gang of four or five - to make any semblance of any sense of it. But they've done it. And they've done it with a minimum of the elaborate stage effects for which this company was renowned. Here, instead, is a group of actors telling us a tale - a far-fetched tale at that - and making us believe in it and them. Partly it's Stephen McCabe's designs that lure us into this grotesque dream, set on a bare floor of plywood panels with robes of fashionably abstract geometrical design, and not a bit of hairy woad in sight. Partly it's Michael Williams's sharply suggestive lighting. But mostly it's the intense performances by a consistently strong company that compel your credulity, even though the actors visibly drop out of the action to squat on the banquettes around the arena stage. They manage to utter some of the most ridiculous lines in the history of drama with hardly a snigger from the audience....So there were striking performances, too, from Hugh Quarshie as Posthumus, Art Malik as Iachimo..." ~ Robin Thornber, Guardian, 15 September 1984
"The Royal Exchange, Manchester, has started a season of plays about British society being transformed by the low-born people it rejects. I don't quite see how Shakespeare's Cymbeline fits the theme, since its hero Posthumus is not low born and its society doesn't get transformed; but there's nothing condescending about the way Brahm [sic] Murray and his fellow directors put across this improbable fairy story. Art Malik plays Iachimo; the talented black actor Hugh Quarshie doubles as Posthumus and Cloten; and Janet McTeer presents an Imogen of unruly charm. All three are immensely attractive actors who gesticulate too much and need their voices trained; but they justify their play by their sense of bravado and commitment." ~ John Peter, "Why we stage the classics", Sunday Times, 16 September 1984
"There are four very good reasons why the opening production at the Royal Exchange Manchester this autumn should most horribly fail. First, it initiates a seasonal theme, 'Britain Now', which, linking the work of Shakespeare, Dickens, Barrie and Trevor Peacock, will offer (they say) four views of a nation redeemed by the children it has cast out. Second, to demonstrate the diversity of our commonweal and the need for new energies to revive it, the Exchange employs an ethnically mixed company of actors....But this Cymbeline does not fail. It succeeds delicately, vigorously, at times even magically well....The urgency, humour and funky indignation of Janet McTeer remain in my mind longer than the mannerisms of her inexperience and, while the viciousness of Cloten is quite beyond Hugh Quarshie, the bemused nobility of Posthumus is not (the roles are doubled. Art Malik's Iachimo is, like Miss Elgar's Queen, disarmingly casual in villainy." ~ Michael Ratcliffe, "Cymbeline lives", Sunday Observer, 16 September 1984