I always think of Cymbeline as a ‘lesser known’ Shakespeare. This may not be true in the academic sense but I don’t know it well. It is done less often than other of Shakespeare’s plays. Also, truth be told, when it is done it often fails to ‘make the cut’ when I plan the schedule and buy tickets; perpetuating its status as ‘lesser known’. The last production of it I saw was more than a decade ago. Going in, all I could recall about it is that it was about a Celtic king who was unhappy about something. Strike ‘Celtic’ and that could describe all the histories, most of the tragedies and a few of the comedies as well.
While I don’t think it is lesser in quality, I can understand why it is done less often. It is long. The directors at the Festival have proven over the years that they are not afraid to edit and it still runs slightly over 3 hours in performance. Luckily, the pace is such that the length is not uncomfortable. I wouldn’t have noticed had we not been bumping into a dinner reservation.
Another reason it may be done less often is it is confusing. The plot is intricate. They actually make that a source of humor. Toward the end when all the divergent plot lines are coming to resolution the title character looks around at all the people on stage and back at the person speaking and, with a bewildered expression, says: “What?” It is a big laugh line, made ironic by the fact that several characters on stage are, in theory, about to be executed.
This may touch on another reason the play is done less often. It would be easy to do badly. The play is neither a comedy nor a tragedy in the unusual sense. Or , more accurately, it is both. It could be difficult for a director to find that balance. Happily in this production is was done just right