Last night was the first preview night for 'Cymbeline' at the RSC and the only preview night that R and I could both make, so along we went. There are two things we like about preview nights, the most important if which is that they're considerably cheaper so we can afford to see things we couldn't otherwise justify, and see more. The second thing is the atmosphere, going on the first night means the chances of a less than polished performance are - well higher than normal, but there's generally a goodwill from the audience that more than compensates.
One thing I learnt when we went to see 'The Jew of Malta' is that an appearance from the director at the start isn't a good thing (that time it was to explain that half the cast had been struck down with flu - sick as they clearly were it was still a fantastic performance). Last night the director had a slightly more ominous message - they weren't ready. Not only had they not had a dress rehearsal they hadn't yet reached dress rehearsal stage. They were going to run through regardless, but the audience was also promised a full refund.
This was greeted by a general round of applause which seemed to surprise the director, but confirms my assumption that most of us there were on a tight budget. If it's any consolation to the RSC accountants we will be spending the money on more tickets for whatever we can get into next.
Cymbeline was a new play to us, the synopsis we read before hand so confusing, and that added to my general lack of whole hearted enthusiasm for Shakespeare meant I'd gone in with low expectations anyway. I get bits of Shakespeare but rarely feel whole hearted enjoyment watching the plays - it came as a huge surprise to find out how much I've loved the work of his contemporaries and immediate successors, that which I've seen anyway.
As it was Cymbaline, despite coming in at almost 4 hours, raced by. There were occasional fluffed lines, and clearly the production was still a work in process, but cast and crew were amazing. They worked really hard for the audience and essentially pulled it off. I can only imagine how nerve racking going on stage in those circumstances must be, but the central performances were excellent, especially Bethan Cullinane as Innogen, and Oliver Johnstone as Iachimo - genuinely chilling.
The only thing I wasn't convinced by was the effort to draw parallels between the events in Cymbeline and the current debate around the EU referendum. They're there but I feel it would have been better if we'd been left to work them out for ourselves rather than having the message hammered home. That's just quibble though, rather than a serious criticism.
What I do now want to do is read the play, or bits of it anyway. In this production Cymbeline is a woman, queen rather than king, and I can't imagine it any other way now. And that, if anything, is a measure of how good a job they did last night.