O Muses, o high genius, aid me now!
Picture, for yourselves, a scene.
It is AD9, somewhere around Colchester. A weary, satisfied man stands over a hot fire, from its embers he picks a freshly minted coin and hands it to the intimidatingly large figure in the corner. The King gazes down with satisfaction at his image imprinted on a thin slice of metal - he is Cunobelinus, otherwise known as Cymbeline.
And suddenly the scene freezes, and the images blurs and we are off, galloping through history like a smug but anxious horse who dismounted her jockey at the first fence.
We lurch to a stop.
Here is a new scene. We are now in a city. The pungent smell of smoke and mud and human waste makes the air feel thick and threatening. Nearby a bear cries out in pain, dogs bark, people cheer. A man sits in a room, idly picking grime from under his fingers with his quill. (If you must he can look like Joseph Fiennes, though you're only spoiling it for yourselves...). He gazes out of the window, finishes a glass of a sinister looking dark red liquid and sighs with boozy desperation. Playwriting is hard. He looks at his almost-blank page. He quickly counts the words scrawled on his page for the 19th time that day and lets out another sigh.
His eye is drawn to the shelf above him, filled with musty collections of stories and plays. Suddenly it hits him. A Way Out. And this was it - the first recorded time in history that a great genius in a tight spot had got by with a little help from his friends and his back catalogue - though there was no phrase yet for the feeling of relief spiked with a hint of shame that he felt, later there would be, and it would be Greatest Hits Collection.
With a sudden fury he tore pages from the scattered parchments across his room. Boccaccio, Chaucer, Fairy Tales, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet... tattered fragments were spread out across his desk. Yes, he thought, Thank God. Put in a bit of politically-motivated stuff about conceding with dignity to a larger power... wham, bang, thank-you mam. But what to call it... The man stares down at his scraps and one name stares back at him. Cymbeline.
And our horse is on the moving again. Cantering into the present and clattering into the floor like Devon Loch.
We are in an auditorium. An Auditorium so terribly designed the theatre company occupying it seem to have decided to build a better one with scaffolding over the top. Around us sit old people and school groups, flicking through their programmes with disinterest.
The play appears to be coming to an end. From the looks of the faces of those around it us it looks like it has been a long and fairly uninspired evening. In the second half particularly it seems that precision has given way to cliche and the potential in the intriguing stylised staging of the first half has been drowned in a sea of poorly spoken verse, forgettable battle scenes and an unimaginative finale. The lighting seems nice though.
Finally it all comes to an end. A waste of time and talent and money on a show that barely deserves it. One person turns to us and says 'What an awful play... I hear he wrote some classics." That he did. As did many other writers, in his time and beyond. But their second-rate dross doesn't get put on by esteemed companies to full houses in big auditoriums in bigger cities. They haven't been bardified.
Not everything he did is worth doing without a bit of insipration. Come to think of it, not anything he did is worth doing without a bit of inspiration so these guys were backing a loser from the start.
The scene, and the audience, fade into the night. Our journey is over. Our horse has been put down. And we are left to wonder, as we so often are in the theatre - what really was the point of it all?