Cymbeline, by William Shakespeare | Directed by Sean O’Riordan

Secret House & The Depot Theatre (http://www.thedepottheatre.com) | The Depot Theatre, Marrickville, Sydney | Until 15 October

Cymbeline is one of Shakespeare’s most intricate and interesting plays. Written in 1611 shortly before Shakespeare moved to Stratford on Avon, it mixes the three standard categories that the Bard frequently employed; tragedy, history and comedy.

But in this play, King Cymbeline is not a titular character who has the power of Lear, Macbeth or Julius Caesar. In fact he isn’t fundamentally central to the plot at all. That being said, Roger Smith is suitably regal in the role, but it is the lovers, Posthumus (Alexander Brown) and Imogen (Jane Anghharad), who are the play’s focus.

The plot line is complicated. Imogen is heir to the throne and the current Queen (Celia Kelly) is conspiring to marry her to her son, Cloten (Tom Coyne). Angharad impressively plays Imogen as a powerful, resilient and resourceful heroine, a cross between Rosalind in As You Like It and Daenerys in Game of Thrones, whilst Kelly is regally commanding and Coyne creepily convincing.

However, Imogen has already married her childhood friend, Posthumus, and when the marriage is discovered Imogen is imprisoned and Cymbeline banishes Posthumus.

In exile, Posthumus wagers Iachimo (James Smithers) that he cannot seduce Imogen. He can’t. But in a superbly rendered bedroom scene, Iachimo spies on the sleeping Imogen and steals her bracelet as evidence of seduction.

Smithers is most imposing as the Machiavellian villain and Brown is arresting as the duped nice guy haunted by guilt over his too speedy acceptance of his ‘love’s’ infidelity.

All the performances are most impressive. O’Riordan’s incisive casting and direction delivers an ensemble piece judiciously pruned to two hours, yet perfectly conveying all the complexities of an ancient British king’s opposition to the invading forces of Augustus Caesar and the resulting tribal conflict.

Cleverly staged on Angelika Nieweglowski’s functional and inventive modular set comprising of wooden pallets easily moved by cast members, scene changes occur seamlessly, facilitating the vigorous rhythm of this excellent production and allowing the evocation of time and place perfectly.

This very talented designer also costumes the cast in garb that transcends time. With perhaps the exception of the Roman soldiers, the cast could walk out down King Street without feeling in any way out of place. Such is the contemporary feel of the design concept that exquisitely enhances the focus of this production.

The Secret House theatre company takes a weighty historical play and makes it enjoyably accessible for a modern Australian audience. Thumbs up!