Celebrating am dram with RSC

Bench Theatre is performing William Shakespeare's Cymbeline from April 19-21 and 24-28.
Bench Theatre is performing William Shakespeare's Cymbeline from April 19-21 and 24-28.
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The Royal Shakespeare Company is opening up Shakespeare’s plays across the country with its Open Stages project.

Working with amateur theatre, the company has invited amateur companies from across the country to produce their own Shakespeare or Shakespearean-inspired productions.

With a wide gap between amateur and professional theatre, the RSC Open Stages project began in 2011 with hundreds of groups applying to the scheme.

One such group is our very own Bench Theatre, which is putting on a production of Shakespeare’s rarely performed Cymbeline from April 19-21 and 24-28 at The Spring, Havant.

Directing the production is Di Wallsgrove, who describes it as a ‘dark but magical fairytale.’

She says: ‘It is one of Shakespeare’s late plays, which I love. When I saw Cymbeline staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon I decided I would write about it for my masters.’

‘It’s only had 11 productions at Stratford since the 1870s against 80 for Hamlet. My feeling is it fell out of favour because it was too much of a mixture for the Victorians to take it seriously. It is comic and potentially tragic simultaneously.’

Cymbeline, King of Britain, has a daughter, Imogen, and two sons who were stolen in infancy. The Queen, his second wife, has a son, Cloten, who they wish Imogen to marry, but she has secretly married a commoner, Posthumus.

Thinking she has been unfaithful to him, Posthumus orders his servant to kill her - what follows is a classic Shakespearean case of mistaken identity and disguises.

Talking about the characters, Di, who teachers English at Bedales School, Petersfield says: ‘Posthumus isn’t much of a hero in my book. He is very quick to believe Imogen has betrayed him, on very flimsy evidence.’

The group is even reducing the play’s length so it’s not interrupted by scene changes. Di explains: ‘I hate it when you have pauses for bringing on furniture, having musical interludes or making big lighting changes.

‘The whole plan behind the cuts, which I really enjoyed working on, has been to ensure everything flows smoothly.’

The play stars last year’s Guide Award winner Alice Corrigan as Imogen, former Guide Award winner David Penrose, and Mark Wakeman, who previously played Bench Theatre’s Macbeth.

Bench Theatre’s next production is Love’s Labour in early June, written by Jacquie Penrose. It’s also part of the Open Stages project.

Tickets cost £6 to £8 from The Spring, Havant on (023) 9247 2700 or go to thespring.co.uk.