Sunday, 5 May 2019

Theatre review: Pericles (Shakespeare's Globe & tour)

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: The production is previewing at the Globe prior to a tour.

The summer season at Shakespeare's Globe has started, and like last year I'm starting it with the Tiny Tour. These continue to take the new format of three shows in repertory, with some* of the performances being an "audience choice" - neither cast nor audience will know until the last minute which of the three plays will be staged, subject to an audience vote. Brendan O'Hea's productions get a new cast to take over last year's Twelfth Night, with two new shows joining the rotation. Once again I have to wonder if the best-known play will get the nod almost every time - I doubt it's a coincidence that's the one making a return - but audiences will also have one of the real obscurities on offer. In fact the Globe seems to be one of the few places to give Pericles the time of day: The majority of productions I've seen have been there, and even the RSC quietly shelved it the last time it was due.

Is it entirely surprising that, compared to the ones Shakespeare has sole credit on, or the ones he co-wrote with other full-time playwrights, the play he co-wrote with a pimp he met down the pub hasn't set the world alight? Maybe not, and Pericles (which I think current opinion has George Wilkins writing a little over half of, and Shakespeare taking over for the ending) is undeniably messy. A notably young company is led by Colin Campbell as Pericles, the prince who solves the world's easiest riddle and as a result ends up on the run from an incestuous king with violent tendencies. He proceeds to get shipwrecked so many times most people would go "MAYBE I SHOULDN'T TRAVEL BY SEA," in the process encountering various local kings, acquiring a wife, Thaisa (Mogali Masuku,) daughter Marina (Evelyn Miller,) and losing them both along the way. But as he discovers in the redemptive second half, neither is quite as dead as they first appeared.

So the story is a messy one that defies trying to make too much sense of, so maybe the chaotic style of these touring shows, in which eight characters play all the roles, is as good a match for it as any. I can't speak for how much anyone who didn't know the story beforehand could tell you about what happened, but honestly that's got to be true of any production, and not all of them are as consistently fun as this. A highlight has to be Mark Desebrock playing Thaisa's father Simonides as an over-enthusiastic to the point of camp Australian king; although I don't think the production quite embraces the downright weirdness of the plotline where Marina is so pure she makes all the clients of a brothel turn religious (although their dedication to living a better life doesn't seem to include rescuing her from a life of forced prostitution.)

I had my doubts whether Pericles was too little-known and too chaotic a story (famously including a character getting abducted by pirates in the middle of an unrelated scene,) to make sense in such a stripped-down format, but as this production demonstrates, it doesn't have to.

Pericles by William Shakespeare and George Wilkins is booking in repertory until the 21st of August at Shakespeare's Globe; and touring between the 17th of May and the 29th of September to Chilham, Charleston South Carolina, Porthcurno, Taunton, Bangor, Brighton, Guernsey, Oxford, Petronell-Carnuntum, Oslo, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes including interval.

Photo credit: Bill Barclay.

*a look through the tour schedule suggests unlike last year the audience choice performances are in the minority, which suggests to me that it was a mixed success. I'm still going with my theory that Twelfth Night won most nights, leaving anyone hoping for something a bit less ubiquitous disappointed

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