It’s fair to say that there are quite a few Shakespearean plays about travel. And about mistaken identity. And about family relations. And about dreams. But put these together in a new and surprisingly under-performed combination and the result is Pericles: the new production taking over the BT.
The play itself is no small undertaking; I’m reliably informed that this particular cast have managed to condense fifty-seven characters into just seven actors and actresses. But don’t worry – we won’t get confused because apparently they’re all very good at doing accents. Gender, age and nationality are no boundaries for this ambitious crew. Plus, every time an actor or actress changes character, they have a different accessory to wear over their all-black costumes: I’m particularly looking forward to what has been described as a “mouldy faux-fox-fur” which marks out the evil step-mother figure Dionyza.
Added to this audience-friendly use of props, the different countries of Pericles’ travel (and there are quite a few), are separated by their own colour palettes on stage. Antioche, for example, is red. That’s because it’s soon revealed to be the city of incest, lust, and love; complex and sensitive topics which are played out engagingly and thoughtfully by James Moore (Antiochus) and Connie Greenfield (Antiochus’ daughter).
Without giving too much away, I’d get ready for a historically apt use of mime and tableau in this production. Against this neat framework, which arranges an episodic play into something resembling a carefully ordered narrative, director Edwina Christie has interestingly chosen a setting of visual chaos.
The backdrop is a huge white canvas which the cast get to scribble on and graffiti throughout. The props are minimal but actively used: a set of sticks will morph from swords into fishing rods and from truncheons into walking sticks. But as the play progresses, the sticks are discarded by the actors on stage, the white canvas backdrop is covered over, and we are left with a physical and emotional accumulation of all that has gone before.
We are also left with Gower: that real-life pinnacle of English literature who narrates the play. I saw Ariel Levine act this important part only for the length of the Prologue, but even in these brief moments he leapt, Puck-like, around the stage, and with enough enthusiasm to sustain even the most packed auditorium at the Burton Taylor Studio.
If you’re a fan of the metatheatrical, this play certainly does not ever let its audience forget that it is a play. What it does let us forget is that it’s a student performance on a relatively small budget in an even smaller theatre — a combination of imagination and enthusiasm render all of this irrelevant. As Gower says, “New joy wait on you!” And it will, if only you head down to the BT in seventh week.
Pericles is on at the Burton Taylor Studio from 26th-30th November. Tickets are £5-6 and are available here