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CULTURE: Drama with Shakespeare taken out.

A breath of Cornish sea air is blowing through Stratford-upon-Avon this week with the arrival of Knee-high Theatre's production of Cym-beline, writes Terry Grimley#.

The eccentric theatre company, which rehearses its shows in a barn on the clifftops, has just had its critically-acclaimed production of Tristan and Yseult nominated for a TMA award, but Cymbeline is its first venture into Shakespeare.

"We wouldn't have done it unless we had this offer, but it came at a very timely point for us," says artistic director Emma Rice. "We were told they would like us to do Cymbeline but how we did it was up to us. I had never read it and never seen it, but that was good because what you don't want to do in this situation is Hamlet or Macbeth because everybody knows them and has an opinion about them."

Cymbeline is sometimes seen as a kind of late self-pastiche of better Shakespeare plays, with an outstanding heroine, some underdeveloped characters and some writing clunky enough to make scholars suspect the hand of a second-rate collaborator.

If Kneehigh were deliberately matched with one of Shakespeare's creakier plays in order to deal radically with it, they have certainly risen to the challenge, beginning by jettisoning Shakespeare's text.

"If you're doing all the plays, it's a broad church - there will be plenty of other productions that are faithful to the text," argues Emma Rice.

"We do say in our publicity that it's a 'version'. There are some bits of Shakespeare but we've really gone back to what I think the story is about - fairy tales and families and getting lost in the woods and finding your way home - and we've really shaken it up.

"I think the human condition is funny and the problems human beings get themselves into. Comedy sits very close to tragedy. We never rehearse gags, we rehearse the situation, and when we put it on, we get laughs we don't even know are there.

"I like to think Shakespeare was a bawdy people's theatre person, so he would have approved of the way we've done it.

"It's his story, and you get all the plot. I haven't taken out any of the elements. Actually he's very clear, and all the clues were left by him 400 years ago."

The production was premiered in an outdoor version at Rufford Country Park, Nottinghamshire, inAugust.

"It's just over two hours' playing time and it certainly rattles along at quite a pace. When you're working outdoors you can't be boring. And you can't do subtle TV acting outside.

Kneehigh Theatre presents Cymbeline at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, until September 30 (Box of[sup.3]fice: 0870 609 1110). It also tours to Birmingham Rep in February. review in Saturday's Post
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 21, 2006
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