Pericles by William Shakespeare and George Wilkins
Directed By: Dominic Dromgoole
Friday 11th December 2015
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Review by Lucy Menon @LucyMenon
Lit by candles, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is instantly atmospheric. A small space with the audience close together on benches gives for an intimate feel and even if you are above the stage, on the balcony area, you still feel close to the action even if your view is, at times, obscured.
The production was incredibly well cast with all of the characters portrayed with sincerity and believability. James Garnon moves through all of Pericles’s jubilations and tribulations with an ease of conveyance which is truly heart-felt. His anguish at losing his family is almost palpable and his outbursts of emotion aren’t over-dramatic. By the end of the play, with his long hair and dishevelled appearance he convincingly portrays despair bordering madness. However, he also manages to inject humour into the situation wherever possible which gives a more three-dimensional feel to Pericles as a character rather than being simply a tragic figure. An example of this is when he suddenly becomes aware of his unkempt look and demands fresh clothes before he greets his future son-in-law properly. Thaisia is played wonderfully by Dorothea Myer-Bennett, who also doubles as a fabulous Dionyza, making the role similar to that of a villainous pantomime step-mother in her plotting to murder Marina (Jessica Baglow).
The use of the stage was excellent as, even though it is a small area, the whole of it was incorporated in most scenes. Actors also entered from a door at the opposite side to the stage and so came through the audience which meant that people felt more involved with the unfolding story due to physical proximity. The use of props was minimal but very effective: in particular the sail and ropes that descended from a trap door in the ceiling to represent the ship. Rigging was placed over the balcony at the back of the stage which was used for Pericles to become entangled and he delivered his lines whilst trapped before being washed ashore and aided by the fisherman. At the end of the play, when Pericles has his vision of Diana (Tia Bannon), she descended on wires from the ceiling which also worked well and didn’t seem far-fetched, as it was in keeping with the general disbelief of reunions of people who thought each other dead.
One of the best scenes, for me, was the celebration of Thaisia’s birthday, in which the local knights paid her tribute. Good Simonides (Simon Armstrong) certainly seemed to live up to his name as he was presented as a jovial and fair king, taking a genuine interest in his daughter’s festivities. Armstrong is also cast as the incestuous Antiochus at the start, which serves to emphasise the contrasting qualities expected in good and bad kingship between the two characters. The flirtatious behaviour between the knights and the female attendants was also humorous, particularly in the dance when Simonides has to call for them to part as it is becoming a bit too risqué! These scenes can often be portrayed in a more serious way with a lot of bravado and machismo: while these were present in this production, the jovial aspects of it were brought out more which I felt to be an effective and entertaining decision.
A special mention should go to Sheila Reid, who executed a unique interpretation of Gower and managed to have the audience laughing out loud at the way she chose to deliver the lines of narration which was often reminiscent of the stereotype of a crazy cat lady. This worked incredibly well and allowed for the play to have a light-hearted self-reflexive aspect to it.
The bawd house is also of notable mention with the nuances of the characters well defined and evoking all the humour within the lines. Bolt (Dennis Herdman) was suitably lascivious and Fergal McElherron gave his Pandar a disgusting habit of hocking up sputum at regular intervals, making the scenes equally humorous as well as disturbing, as it was a physical reminder of the filth in such places. Kirsty Woodward provided a wonderful foil as the Bawd in charge and together, the trio made the scenes like a sleazy, yet hilarious, late-night Eastenders episode.
All was accompanied by a small band of musicians in the balcony above, who contributed to the overall atmosphere of the production with storm-making on metal drums and strings and woodwind to enhance the dance scenes as well as to lend a dream-like quality to the reunion scenes.
The finale was a well-choreographed dance (by Sian Williams) which seemed to tend towards an early modern interpretation but had some interesting gestures which could easily have been ‘big fish, little fish, cardboard box’ from more recent times. Having seen a few productions which end in such routines, I feel that this was the best one so far and did not seem an incongruous addition as is sometimes the case.
Overall, I found this to be an excellent production with poignant and moving sections but with the addition of humorous interjections, which allowed the performance to achieve several levels of engagement with the audience, and kept a good pace as well as giving some respite from persistent tragedy.
It’s on now until Thursday 21st April 2016.
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