A first class ensemble excel in this spellbinding production... close to perfectionLe Figaro, Paris
The triumph of this outstanding production is to take a flighty fairytale and alchemize into something that actually matters... Superlative stuffEvening Standard
The emotions are so intense and clearly expressed by the young company that it's impossible not to be grippedTime Out
Shakespeare as smartly adrenalised as anything cooked up in a Soho editing suite. Piquant theatricality... A peach of a production.The Telegraph

Produced by Cheek by Jowl in a co-production with barbicanbite07;Les Gémeaux/Sceaux/Scène Nationale; Grand Théâtre de Luxembourg.

Find out more by visiting the entry for this production in our archive

In order of speaking

Gwendoline ChristieQueen
Tom HiddlestonPosthumus/Cloten
Jodie McNeeImogen
David CollingsCymbeline
Richard CantPisanio
Guy FlanaganIachimo
Laurence SpellmanCaius Lucius
Jake HardersDoctor
Lola PeploeHelen
Claire Cordier 
Ryan EllsworthBelarius
John MacMillanGuideruis
Daniel PercivalArviragus
Mark HolgateCompany
David CavesCompany

DirectorDeclan Donnellan
DesignerNick Ormerod
Associate & Movement DirectorJane Gibson
Lighting DesignerJudith Greenwood
Sound DesignerRoss Chatfield
Assistant DirectorOwen Horsley
Company Voice WorkPatsy Rodenburg
Fight DirectorTerry King
Casting Director Bracke
Assistant to the Movement DirectorIsabel Baquero
Technical DirectorSimon Bourne
Costume SupervisorAngie Burns
Company ManagerAnna Schmitz
Technical Stage ManagerDougie Wilson
Deputy Stage ManagerClaire Loxley
Assistant Stage ManagerValerie Cohen
Wardrobe ManagerVic Cree
Lighting KristinaHjelm
Production PhotographyKeith Pattison
Show Image PhotographyPatrick Baldwin
Hair and Make upSarah Louise Packham
Costume MakersCaroline Molyneux
Wendy Knowles
Sarah Ninot
Dennis Bruno
WigsThe Big Wig Company
PropsKathy Anders & Lisa Buckley
Set Built bySimon Kenny at Souvenir Scenic Studios
Rehearsed atArts Admin


The opening sets the tone for the production. On a bare stage a stony faced group of actors, gather around an immaculately coiffed tall blond, wearing a silk dress with a purple sash. It has all the immaculate veneer of a traditional family photograph, reminiscent of Buckingham Palace in the fifties. Declan Donellan's production of Shakespeare's most Elizabethan play, is a production for our own violent times. He presents this action packed play, as a savagely dark powerful political drama. Using the simplest of sets, with no special effects, he deliberately avoids any facile exoticism, allowing the action to flow with absolute clarity, helped by a uniformly strong cast and Judith Greenwood's subtle lighting effects.

Casting the excellent Tom Hiddleston in the dual role of the banished husband, Posthumus, and Cloten, the queen's arrogant son, two starkly contrasting characters, introduces a note of humour and a little lightness into the production. Hiddleston switches seamlessly from unbearable, sulky little English nobleman to humbled exile. Jodie McNee is a fresh and youthful Imogen. Fidelity, chastity and faith are so much harder to portray than vice, and she succeeds in bringing the virtuous princess to life, creating a flesh and blood character.

Gwendoline Christie is a subtly perfidious queen, who might have stepped straight from a fairy story, or been the model for the Queen in Alice in Wonderland. Guy Flanagan is a traitor, with all the airs of a City gent. The whole company bring rigour and precision to the production, working tightly together, like the fingers of one hand. Marian Thébaud, Le Figaro. 8 March 2007

Fairytale that actually matters

Cheek by Jowl have taken a flighty fairytale and made it a heavyweight.

If ever a Shakespeare play needed to be taken firmly in hand, it's Cymbeline. This Bagpuss of an ancient Britain set piece, with its away-with-the-fairies feel and torrent of unlikely climactic revelations, lurches unsteadily between myth, politics and romance. The triumph of this outstanding, modern-ish dress production from Cheek by Jowl is to take a flighty fairytale and alchemise it into something that actually matters.

The first inspired move from director Declan Donnellan and designer Nick Ormerod is literally to open the world of the play out. They employ the whole of the Barbican's stage, newly revealed to be astonishingly wide and deep, to keep the characters orbiting around each other and scenes melting together, a visible, urgent manifestation of the link between action and consequence.

A series of illuminating tableaux accompanies the plot of thwarted love and scheming stepmothers. As separated spouses Imogen and Posthumus bid their adieux, the entire sclerotic court of King Cymbeline stands formally behind them, as if posed for a portrait.

Such exquisite presentation, aided greatly by Judith Greenwood's lighting, doesn't just add clarity, but also depth. All those fag-ends of plot, Donnellan suggests can miraculously cohere, transcend the everyday and come to resemble something like grace.

Jodie McNee's Imogen metamorphoses from a giddy girl about court to a fine young woman. Even this isn't the performance of the night, though, as Tom Hiddleston imbues the tumble-of-events excuse for a character that is Posthumus with compelling humanity, as Othello-like doubt is eventually vanquished by redemptive love. Superlative stuff. Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard. 31 May 2007
4 stars
It's said that Shakespeare also indulged in some rum, meta-theatrical recycling of his own past successes in the late romance, Cymbeline, but Declan Donnellan's superb Cheek by Jowl production reveals the benefits of downplaying the self-reflexivity and mining each moment for its emotional truth.

His minimalist, modern-dress production succeeds in imposing a spell-binding imaginative unity on a play whose convoluted plot involving jealous wagers, princes lost at birth, and rows over tribute money, unfolds in ancient Britain, Augustan Rome, Renaissance Italy and the wilds of Wales. Donnellan's account of this is full of inspired, interpretive touches - having, for instance, one actor (an excellent Tom Hiddleston) play both the hero, Posthumous, and his oafish rival, Cloten, as two sides of the same coin. It gives a further layer of unsettling significance to the notorious scene where Imogen (an ardent Jodie McNee), awakening next to the headless corpse of the idiot, mistakes it for her husband.

The handling of the potentially ridiculous crescendo of coincidences and reunions in the final scene is quite masterly. At each turn, we see people struggling to adjust to bewildering new realities and the mood at the end is expertly mixed, allowing a sense that some things cannot be resolved to complicate the atmosphere of wonder and spiritual transcendence. Paul Taylor, The Independent. 31 May 2007
How can theatre hope to woo the young in the age of the super-slick pop video and CGI-enhanced movie?

At the Barbican, Declan Donnellan has the answer: speed things up, let audiences fill in the gaps, and it's perfectly possible to make Shakespeare as smartly adrenalised as anything cooked up in a Soho editing suite.

Fluidity has always been the hallmark of ever-changing ensemble Cheek by Jowl, whose fixed lodestars are Donnellan and designer Nick Ormerod, but I can't recall a production of theirs that put the actors through their paces as much as this unflaggingly fleet-of-foot Cymbeline. From the moment a set of swag curtains are hoisted aloft to hang over the Edwardian-costumed action like a pair of ironic quotation marks, there's no let-up. One scene bleeds into another, the characters address each other on the hoof, tableaux form and dissolve in the blink of an eye. There's barely an inch of the Barbican stage - specially stripped back to its furthest reaches for the occasion - that isn't utilised.

This compressional style fits the tragicomic bill and opens up vistas of meaning. Cymbeline wraps the gorgeous simplifications of a fairy tale around complex questions about human nature.

The story jumps from palace to Welsh cave, from domestic interior to battlefield, but the governing line of inquiry is about identity - what makes us what we are? Birth, breeding, chance, fate?

By showing everything to be mutable and inter-related, Donnellan gives these concerns piquant theatricality, and his most brilliant stroke of inspiration is to connect together the characters of Cloten and Posthumus, by having one actor (Tom Hiddleston) play both parts. Hiddleston executes bravura switches between the two men, the one dominated by his mother (Gwendoline Christie's wicked Queen), the other motherless - both unstable. He plays Cloten, Cymbeline's clodpole stepson, as smarmy and self-satisfied, quickly stung to the core by his intended wife Imogen's mocking rejection. Donning a mac and specs, his Posthumus looks so much more intelligent, but, swiftly goaded into a jealous rage at Imogen's perceived inconstancy, he proves no less a fool.

As the wronged heroine, outcast and forced to metamorphose into a boy, Jodie McNee's performance ripens as the evening progresses. Finally reunited with her, suitably chastened, Posthumus hugs her close: the two become one. "Hang there like fruit, my soul, till the tree die," he says - an exquisite moment in a peach of a production. Dominic Cavendish, The Daily Telegraph. 1 June 2007

Men don't come off at all well in Declan Donnellan's revival of Shakespeare's late romance.

In the tale of Imogen, who loves and is loved by Posthumous, and is pursued by Cloten, who wants her as much as you might want a new iPod, we see men at war and men in love. Often there is not much difference, and the masterstroke of Donnellan's production is to have both Posthumus, who comes to doubt Imogen's fidelity, and Cloten played by the same actor: Tom Hiddleston. Remember that name, because one day the lad is going to be a star, and deservedly so.

Men in dark suits populate Cymbeline's court, a place of deep misogyny. It is the male gaze that holds sway here. The men lounge around in gangs, like bullies at the edge of the school playground, with Cloten as cock-of-the-walk. Jodie McNee's Imogen exists only in th eyes of men, until she leaves the court disguised as a boy, and discovers herself.

Designer Nick Ormerod has stripped the stage back to create vast, fluid space in which the characters are grouped like eddies and tides in a great sea. One scene pours into another. It is both intensely studied and as natural as real life.

Donnellan is a master at not just placing the actors but also drawing your attention to the space between them. Imogen and Posthumus' leave taking is conducted at a distance; Gwendoline Christie's Queen towers over her husband like a Valkyrie. There are other terrific touches too: the lighting by Judith Greenwood is exceptional, at times making it seem as if the sky itself is boiling. Lyn Gardner, The Guardian. 2 June 2007

Shakespeare's late romance is often despised as a fantastic fairy tale, notorious for the scene in which Imogen wakes up next to the headless corpse of the hated Cloten who she mistakes for her husband Posthumous. How on earth do you put that on stage without provoking giggling rather than pity? By playing the emotions for real, however outlandish the situations, according to director Declan Donnellan, whose Cheek by Jowl production has travelled the world. And there's some sense to Imogen's confusion since Donnellan has cast the same actor, Tom Hiddleston, as Posthumous and Cloten, both of whom in their different ways set out to harm Imogen.

The emotions are so intense and clearly expressed by the young company that it's impossible not to be gripped by a story that rapidly roves across England, Rome and Wales as Imogen and Posthumous are separated by her evil, and in this case towering, stepmother who twists Cymbeline, Imogen's father, around her little finger. Over in Italy, the tragedy is compounded when Posthumous is too quick to believe that his wife has betrayed him.

The menacing atmosphere of the court is intensified by the restless choreography of the direction. Nick Ormerod's design is typically austere. All in suits, the men merge into the black background. It's overpoweringly gloomy, only relieved by the women's glittering evening dresses ? Imogen oddly wears hers for breakfast - and Judith Greenwood's probing shafts of light.

The glowing Jodie McNee makes an outstanding Imogen, resolute when she has to be and sweetly forgiving when reconciled to Hiddleston's equally memorable Posthumous. The final reconciliation scene ratches up even more improbable coincidences than is usual in Shakespeare's romances, but here it also goes straight to the heart. Jane Edwardes, Time Out, London. 5 June 2007

Pre Show talk with Declan Donnellan

Director Declan Donnellan talks about directing Cymbeline to Olivia Williams before a performance at the Barbican, London.

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(23Mb) Published: Wed, 27 Jun 2007 21:16:51 GMT

Interview with Declan Donnellan

Director Declan Donnellan talks about directing Cymbeline to Heather Neil during rehearsals.

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(3Mb) Published: Sun, 25 February 2006 13:39:04 GMT

Interview with actors Tom Hiddleston and Jodie McNee

Actors Tom Hiddleston and Jodie McNee talk to Heather Neil about their roles in Cymbeline.

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(5.7Mb) Published: Sun, 25 February 2006 13:31:50 GMT