Shakespeare's Globe, London, UK.
“We don’t do art here! We do life!”
Gower is sternly rebuking the audience for their lack of vocal
enthusiasm. He has asked them to join in with the celebrations by
shouting a response at his cry of ‘Ai!’ They are unsure - but laughing.
Gower continues his admonishment. “This isn’t television!” To prove it
he drags a girl up from the yard onto the stage. “Which one is Pericles?
Show me!” The girl looks nervous, points hopefully at one of the
players. She is congratulated for paying attention, handed a posy and
made to speak a line of verse before being dumped back into the yard, a
look of accomplishment on her face. For the rest of the show she clings
to the stage, more entranced now than before: she has become part of the
Plays at the Globe, Gower tells us, are about inclusivity – of everyone –
“that’s why it’s called the Globe!” And indeed we do feel included as
characters walk through the yard, threatening or cajoling bystanders,
and as sailors are thrown overboard into our midst, blurring the lines
between audience and player. This Globe production of Pericles, directed
by Kathryn Hunter, is a tale of turmoil and healing, of loss and
redemption, vibrant with the wild energy of the sea and the passions
The main point of note in the casting of this production was the
decision to include two versions of Pericles: an older and a younger.
The play begins with Pericles the elder (Corin Redgrave) inconsolable
over the death of his daughter. We are then taken on a journey through
the events which led to this melancholy. The elder Pericles is onstage
throughout, watching and commenting on the actions taken by his younger
self (Robert Lucskay) and occasionally sharing verse.
I found interesting his reaction to the memory of the now-dead daughter
of Antiochus. She is presented as a pathetic character: several times
throughout the play sadly reaching out to the older Pericles who cries
“I could have saved her!” to which Gower sharply reacts “Could you?”
In the final Act, we have come full circle and the older Pericles takes
the stage as himself in the here and now. For those who are not familiar
with the text of the play this adds an air of anticipation and mystery;
for those who are it makes the unfolding of the action all the more
In terms of characterisation, as well as general casting, this is a
truly multicultural production. The character of Gower (Patrice
Naiambana) has been developed based on the West African figure of the
griot. Much more than mere Chorus, Gower is onstage for the majority of
the play, becoming involved in the action. He inspires and heals,
encourages and rebukes, becoming our moral barometer and pulling the
threads of the play together to weave the story.
The geography of the play is taken as metaphorical and the national (and
moral) differences of the characters interpreted through the negotiated
physicality of the actors. The sea itself is a strong presence,
represented by the now-gentle now-fierce, finely choreographed
undulations of the cast as they embody its constant movement. Several
members of the cast are aerialists and their rope skills are used to
excellent effect in the portraying of storms and shipwrecks. These
scenes are energetic and violent, with sailors desperately trying to
hold down the sails whilst being buffeted from side to side across the
ship. At one point the sailors swing out across the balconies and
Pericles clings to a rope ladder whilst a huge sail stretches out to
encompass the audience within the drama.
The set and costume for this production have been kept simple:
unobtrusively achieving their aims by means of suggestion, in order not
to detract from the physical presence of the actors. The specially
constructed musical instruments (heavily percussion) enhance the
atmosphere, sometimes quietly, often crashingly, as do Gower’s African
dialect songs of both mourning and joy.
The Globe have taken one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays and turned
it into something both topical and uplifting. Just as Gower wanted, we
feel our connection to this modern-world version of the play, as a
suited Prince navigates the tempestuous realities of a life containing
incest and deceit, famine and disaster, but also purity and nobleness,
faith and joy.
This review was originally published on The Shakespeare Revue.