Reviewed by James Karas
Pericles has had a rough ride since it was first produced around 1608 at the Globe Theatre. Its fate has swung from one of the most popular of Shakespeare’s (and collaborator George Wilkins’) plays to one of the most ignored. It has joined the repertoire for the time being and suffice it to say that it has its admirers and its detractors as a theatrical piece.
I confess that I have not been able to warm up to its episodic plot of storms at sea and the dead coming back to life. And who can keep a straight face about Marina’s escapades and Pericles’ adventures around the eastern Mediterranean.
James Garnon as Pericles with Jessica Baglow as Marina. Photo: Marc Brenner
Shakespeare’s Globe has fearlessly staged a production of the play in the small Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, directed by Dominic Dromgoole. It may be as good as one can get.
Pericles is introduced by the rather tiresome Gower, the Chorus. He appears at the beginning of each act and he is perhaps essential to keep us on route in the travelogue through the years. Gower is played by Sheila Reid who, I want to be polite, can be heard most of the time and perhaps that is enough for the role.
James Garmon makes a muscular, assertive and fine Pericles. By the end of the play he appears tired and after what he has been through, no wonder. Dorothea Myer-Bennett plays the appreciative Dionyza who later turns murderous, and the lovely Thaisa. Jessica Baglow plays the saintly goody two-shoes Marina, the daughter of Pericles, who is abducted by nasty pirates, ends up in a brothel and comes out virtuous and angelic.
After Pericles is washed up on the shore of Pentapolis and the waves bring in his armour, he goes to the court of King Simonides (Simon Armstrong). A number of knights contend for the hand of Thaisa and the notable part about the scene is the noise that Dromgoole generates. Clanging, screaming yelling. There are a number of loud noises like that throughout the evening.
The set of Designer Jonathan Fensum is minimal. The most outstanding feature is the use of chandeliers. The Playhouse has an Upper Level and many of the spectators were forced to find the actors and the action through the chandeliers. You had to bend backward, lean forward, and stretch sideways to see the action on the stage below. The theatre is supposed to represent a 17th century indoor playhouse but Dromgoole or someone else should have glanced at what it looks like from the upper level.
This was not a fortuitous situation for changing my opinion about the play. Too many ingredients did not work to make the evening at the theatre a success.
I should mention in fairness that most of the audience seemed to react more positively than I did but they probably did not have to contend with a chandelier.