This is one of Shakespeare's lesser-known plays, and so rarely finds a spot in theatrical calendars. That alone might be enough to encourage visits from those who study or have a real passion for Shakespeare, because the opportunities to see this play are few and far between. First performed sometime around 1608, some scholars credit around half the text to another playwright, possibly George Wilkins. The play is based on a fourteenth century poem by John Gower, who appears in the play as the narrator.
The Pericles referred to in the title, is Prince of Tyre. Intelligent and sharp-witted, Pericles fancies the daughter of the King of Antioch and duly appears to request her hand in marriage. However, like all other suitors anxious to bed the princess, he has to solve a riddle before they can get hitched. When Pericles is told the riddle, he realises that it means the King of Antioch is involved in an incestuous relationship with his daughter. Now, you weren't expecting that, were you? Wait, just wait, there's more! So, Pericles decides his best option is to scarper, lest his knowledge causes war between Antioch and Tyre. So, Pericles heads off into the sunset on his ship and is duly wrecked. But he soon finds a wife who then dies giving birth to a daughter. And, some years later, the latter finds herself sold to a brothel. That is not the end of this somewhat racy tale, but it certainly contains a number of twists and turns and covers a huge slice of one man's peculiar life.
The script has more than 20 characters, but this production – by creative company Pistachio Choice – manages to tackle them all with a team of just 4 actors. That means, of course, they all take on multiple roles. This approach can be a little confusing in some productions, though it is used extensively even with companies who are awash with cash and resources. Here, it never seemed to be problematic or confusing. That is due to creatively deft and sensible direction from Drew Mulligan, and a wholly professional and confident cast who can slip from accent to accent at the drop of a hat, and instantly inhabit alternate characters. Now that said, I didn't buy-in to all of the characterisations, particularly one or two of the minor, stick-toting ones. Other than that minor gripe, the cast – Stephen Connery-Brown, Ruth Rogers, Tim Wyatt and Emma Carroll - handle all the other parts very effectively and convincingly. They really motor into top gear during the second half, especially when Pericles's daughter struggles to avoid losing her virginity in the brothel and we witness an interesting, but rather challenging blend of comedy and pathos.
An ex-colleague of mine used to get sea-sick the moment he stepped on board a ferry. You may have the same experience before this seafaring play sets its sails and heads for foreign shores. With a wooden floor looking every bit like the deck of a ship, sails overhead and endless creaking of rigging in the wind, it's hard not to feel just a tad unwell even while waiting for the show to start. Thankfully, the gents is right next to the auditorium door. Phew! But there is a more serious point here. With just a mere hint of scenery – sails and a few bits of rope dangling from the rafters – and some authentic and well-devised sound effects, one gets a real sense of atmosphere. The addition of some very evocative music composed by Jamie Reid, means there's much to admire in the simple but effective setting. The costumes are modern with wigs, raincoats, duffle-coats etc. being the order of the day, and all fit perfectly with the ambience and the overall design.
This production of 'Pericles' cannot boast a large cast or budget (and probably intentionally so), but the essential qualities of a good night out are all in evidence – strong performances and direction, good pacing and diction, and an interesting storyline combining humour with drama (and which actually deserves more airings than it currently gets). Well-worth seeing.