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Pericles – Prince of Tyre (Susan Elkin reviews)

The quality of performance and the imaginative direction and other hard work which has gone into this production are, I’m afraid, in inverse proportion to the quality of the play itself. Boy, was Shakespeare having an off day. Written around 1608 it came fairly late in the Great Man’s career, Perhaps he’d temporarily run put of inspiration after the magnificent poetry of his recently written Antony and Cleopatra and King Lear. Experts think that some of the worst bits – the first eleven scenes with their dreadful doggerel for instance – were actually by George Wilkins which (sort of) explains a bit. I’ve only seen it in the past heavily abridged for young audiences, and it can work quite well in that format. Uncut, it’s pretty dire.

A clunkly episodic very unevenly paced piece, its plot is recounted by narrators when the playwright cannot (apparently) think of a suitable way of presenting it theatrically. Richard Brown, for Shakespeare at the George, has split the words spoken by Prologue and Gower as narrator amongst almost his whole cast which adds an inclusive sense of collaboration. He also has some nice ideas for creating low-tech storms and shipwrecks (of which this play is full) using waving sheets and models, probably very much as the Jacobeans might have done it. I also enjoyed most of the music, written by Ian Favell and played by him and Roy Bellass.

There are some impressive individual performances too. Reuben Milne has deliciously compelling stage presence as the simpering Knight of Macedon and is, among other roles, very pleasing as the general help in a brothel. Liz Barka, with her wonderfully expressive face, has fun with each of her six roles – the flirty fishwife being the most memorable. Paula Incledon-Webber is good value as the bossy Bawd and Georgie Bickerdike is pleasing as the rescued princess Marina, abandoned as a baby, rescued by pirates from a Snow White-style evil stepmother (Lynne Livingstone, glittering with malice – next stop panto?) and then sold into a brothel. She starts as a terrified child and grows into a feisty young woman before our eyes, She even manages to make falling in love with a potential client seem plausible – ish.

Simon Maylor is solid as Pericles. He speaks the lines – such as they are – well. But there’s an age problem. Even with brown hair dye in the first half (which disappears during the interval when he ages twenty years) he is not convincing as a strong lusty young man travelling round the Mediterranean partly on the run and partly in search of happiness. He comes across much more as a troubled middle aged man which doesn’t help a play which is already deeply flawed.

Shakespeare at the George is a fine company and I’m really looking forward to Richard III next year because it will provide much better material for these talented people to work with. For a start they won’t have to tack on an Arabian theme to the costumes and music in a valiant but arguably spurious attempt to inject some sparkle into a second rate text.

First published by Sardines


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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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