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Exciting but not real thing

Cymbeline, King of Britain, is married to his tyrant of a nurse.

Cymbeline, King of Britain, is married to his tyrant of a nurse. His two sons were kidnapped 20 years before, and his daughter Imogen has married her childhood sweetheart against his will.

And to add to that, Cymbeline and Imogen now have to deal with a few hours of fighting, laughing, wanderings around dark woods, war, the usual case of mistaken identity, and, of course, a happy ending.

Kneehigh Theatre's production of Cymbeline, playing at Northern Stage until Saturday, reflects the schizophrenic nature of the Shakespearean original but that's where the similarities end.

This is definitely modern Shakespeare, and Kneehigh succeed in making the play accessible. Gone are the complicated language, strange metaphors and constant location changes that confuse people.

What's left is a large metal two-storey cage in the middle of the stage, and a group of great actors who work hard at making sure that you're always engaged with what is happening.

But it isn't enough.

The four-piece-band who narrate using music instead of speech take a bit of getting used to. There are some haunting melodies, but I find it hard to reconcile the band's rock-boy image with all my preconceptions about Shakespeare. And while some of the music works, some of it, like the techno, really doesn't.

The techno beats, though, are the least strange elements of the production. There's a character called Joan, a washer-woman type who appears at odd moments, a remote-controlled toy car that has no real significance and on one occasion some poor, hapless audience member gets pulled on to the stage. Is this Shakespeare, or am I suddenly in December, and is this a pantomime?

Throughout the play I get the nagging feeling that what I'm watching is not really Shakespeare. I try to remind myself that it's all about personal interpretation but it doesn't help.

Kneehigh's Cymbeline is innovative, exciting and fun but all I really want to do is go home and read the play, with all the complicated language, strange metaphors and constant location changes that confuse people, intact.

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