Monday, 6 June 2005

Pericles - Shakespeare's Globe 2005

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 production.

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 ensuing thereof.

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 poignant.

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. 

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