(Written for Culture Wars)
“Pericles” is a bit of a bastard of a play. Fragmented, epic, implausible, and without many stand-out moments, it’s a huge odd old thing. It’s therefore heartening that the Globe production of it, through some natty dramaturgy, infectious energy, and several standout performances, many from the wonderful Marcello Magni, is an amiable summer romp that I can heartily recommend.
The big directorial gimmick is to split the character of Pericles into two for the first half – the old Pericles (Corin Redgrave) looking upon his younger self (Robert Luckay) as he makes his youthful mistakes, and gets shipwrecked about fourteen times. “That’s you! That’s you!” taunts Gower (Patrice Naiambana), the narrator of the piece, fondly. This dramaturgical dealing with the text works well – it makes the whole thing into a fun storytelling exercise, which helps into the second half, as the story splits into three strands separated by an ocean, allowing Gower to jolly the whole business along with a fun irreverance (“You were expecting art?” he booms, “This is LIFE!”).
Kathryn Hunter’s direction – sorry, play mastery – is very good; the text, although there are some dodgy tennis metaphors, is made zingy and light, with some excellent verse-speaking from, among others, Jude Akuwudike, Laura Rees and Matilda Layser (who has particular fun as a fisherman’s apprentice). The design uses the whole theatre, with actor/aerialists literally bouncing off the walls, climbing ropes, making a boat from two sticks and running around like lunatics, making “wooooooaaaaah” noises. It’s highly entertaining.
And then there’s Marcello Magni. Stealing the show every time he comes on in one of his many guises, he lulls us into a false sense of security in his bearded role as Pericles’ wise custodian of Tyre, Helicanus, before pulling out the stops for his frankly barking turn as Simonides, constantly pulling his odd white wig out of his eyes, struggling to strip for a clown duel with the young Pericles, and eventually kissing Pericles and his daughter repeatedly and maniacally after he has approved their marriage. And he’s only just warming up – his Italian pimp character Boult, complete with bizarre door-bolting affectation, manages to be very funny and quite, quite sinister. Magni’s conviction, energy and invention is startling and infectious. It’s worth a fiver just to see him.
With so many disparate parts to the production – clowning, aerial work, a gunshot, multi-cultural casts, improvised audience banter, a mix of realistic and suggested props, and the nature of playing the Globe space – there’s a danger that “Pericles” could be an awkward mish-mash, but it sticks so closely to the storytelling/actor-audience relationship ethos of the Globe that you’re left with a highly enjoyable production, which tells its difficult story entertainingly and enthusiastically.
And at £5 for tickets, it’s good value for money! Unless you get free tickets, like I did, in which case, it’s better than good value. It’s excellent value.