With this play, I’m trying to look at Cymbeline from a more production/dramaturgical angle. Where can we double roles? Where can we cast more women?
And in this play, that’s saying something.
The play calls for around 40 roles, and that’s a boatload. Of which 4 or maybe 6 are designated women (the soft number is because of the inclusion of “ladies” plural for Imogen…is that two or four?). So you can see the dilemma for a producer and director. Do you really want to cast 40 parts? And have only four of them be women?
No. And No.
Well, obviously you can double roles. The New Oxford Shakespeare Critical Reference Edition (man, I love this book) has the casting requirements as being 18 men, and three women (with a few extra “for the ‘ladies’”). They get their counts because of their adherence to the rules created by Mauley and MacLean (based on their revision of T.J. King’s documentation of casting studies in Shakespeare’s day), further refined by Andrew J. Power:
- No actor can return immediately after their departure from the stage: no returning as a different character in the same scene (which expanded on Mauley and MacLean’s 20-25 lines–from which there can be some exceptions)
- In order to double as another character, there must be a delay of 20-25 lines before the actor can come back on
- Two different actors cannot play the same character
- An actor doubling roles may “alternate” between parts as the play requires
- “Casting should be ‘economical'”
- All female characters are played by boys, and boys do not play adult roles
- When the text calls for supernumeraries in the plural without specifying a number, two are counted
- Supernumeraries should always be counted
Of course, if you cut the text, you can cut some characters, too (thanks, Jupiter!).
But I know that there are some doublings that they don’t list for Cymbeline… At Shakespeare’s Globe in 2001, Mike Alfreds, the following roles were doubled (and tripled):
- Iachimo, Morgan
- Posthumus, Cloten, Cornelius
- Cymbeline, Jupiter, Jailer
- Pisanio, Philario, Polydore, Caius Lucius
- Queen, Cadwal, Philharmonus the Soothsayer
Needless to say, the rules above didn’t apply here. This six-actor (and two percussionist) production played to largely positive reviews, some of which commented on the intentional comedy involved with Cloten and Posthumus both being played by the same actor.
Ten years later, across the pond in New York City, Fiasco Theater presented as its second production another six-actor Cymbeline. Their casting looked like this:
- Posthumus, Roman Captain
- Pisanio, Philario, Caius Lucius, Guiderius
- Cymbeline, Cloten, Cornelius
- Iachimo, Arviragus
- Queen, Frenchman, Belaria
The same: only six actors. But different. And no Jupiter. I’m not surprised by the gender-fluidity of “Belaria”…I’m just surprised that it didn’t go further: I recently saw their Into the Woods where the same actor played one of the charming princes, one of the evil stepsisters, and–I kid you not–Milky White, the cow. Their Cymbeline production seems to have garnered even better reviews than the Globe’s.
If anyone has a first-hand account of either of these, please let me know…I’d love to hear about it!