Article Title:Review: Pericles, Prince of Tyre
Author or Credit:Lexie Matheson
Published on:3rd March 2014 - 10:51 am
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Story ID:14713
Text:Pericles, Prince of Tyre By William Shakespeare Produced for AUSA Outdoor Shakespeare Trust by Sarah Burren Directed by Geoff Allen, Set design by Geoff Allen, Musical direction by Kay Shacklock, Lighting design by Beren Allen, Costume design by Troy Garten, Fight choreography by Michael Hurst. In the Old Arts Quad (behind the University of Auckland ClockTower) From 28 February to 22 March, 2014 Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, including interval I must admit when I heard that Pericles, Prince of Tyre was to be the AUSA Outdoor Shakespeare Trust’s offering for 2014 I was more than a bit bemused. I’d read it a thousand years ago, had serious difficulty following the intricate plot and had filed it to the back of my mind along with Timon of Athens, Cymbeline and The Two Noble Kinsmen as undoable, somewhat turgid rubbish. As a young person I allowed myself the affectation that not all Shakespeare’s plays were good plays but that says more about the young me than it does about Sweet Mr Shakespeare. I’ve since learned never to write off anything quilled, even in part, by William Shakespeare, having seen some damn good productions of other plays I didn’t initially care for and in particular the RSC’s 1996 production of a stripped back, leather-clad and visceral Troilus and Cressida, directed by Ian Judge and with Joseph Fiennes as a magnificent Troilus, Victoria Hamilton a sexy and passionate Cressida, Clive Francis a queenly Pandarus, Edward de Souza imperious as Agamemnon, Ross O'Hennessy’s muscle-bound and none-to-bright Ajax and rounded out by a vivid memory of Philip Voss’s proud Achilles skulking in his tent with his gorgeous blond himbo Patroclus (Jeremy Sheffield). Jack Tinker (The Mail. 25th July 1996) wrote of this production ‘yet for all its vainglorious homo-erotic overtones, the play's true heart exists wondrously in the quality casting of the title roles.’ As in everything, I thought, as in everything. Back, though, to this production of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, the unique qualities of the play and this production of it, and a reference from time to time back to Tinker’s review of Troilus and his sage comments about casting. I won’t deny a rising excitement as show time approached along with clouds and the promise of some rough weather. ‘Who cares’, I thought, ‘It’s outdoor Shakespeare and that’s the risk you take.’ Our eleven year old, Shakespeare-nut son, suitably armed with chips, drink and a winter woolly, shared the excitement of both his Mums and reminded us that this was his 4th AUSA Summer Shakespeare and that he ‘loved them to bits.’ Prior research advised that Shakespeare drew from one primary and one secondary source for his tale of Pericles, Prince of Tyre and this same research reminds us of the common academic wisdom that says Shakespeare’s ink was mixed with that of at least one other in the crafting of this play. This same academic wisdom identifies taverner and ratbag George Wilkins as his probable collaborator. Wilkins is the author of The Painful Adventures of Pericles (1608), a novella-like version of the play which is tacked together from bits from the original and bits from Shakespeare’s play. Since Wilkins mentions the play in the Argument that precedes The Painful Adventures of Pericles it must be assumed that ‘Wilkins' novel derives from the play, not the play from the novel.’ Victualler and pamphleteer Wilkins has always been the front-runner for co-authorship of the non-Shakespearean material in the first two acts of the play and since Wilkins wrote dramas in a similar style and had a writing career of only three years (1606-1609), no better contender has been found. Pericles, like Wilkins and Shakespeare, is a real person from history. An Athenian leader during the early part of the Peloponnesian War he was responsible for rebuilding the city following the Persian Wars and is of sufficient historical importance to have the era in which he lived (5th Century BCE, The Age of Pericles) named after him. He was nobly born the son of Xanthippus and Agariste and first appears in historical record in the role of producer for Aeschylus' Persians in 472 thus enabling Aeschylus to enter into that year's dramatic competitions. He was a descendant of Cleisthenes, the founder of democracy, and came to power in approximately 460. He was, almost immediately, elected strategos (military general), a position he held for the next 29 years. Pericles had the Long Walls built between Athens and the Piraeus (458-56), a peninsula 4 miles from Athens and was responsible for numerous significant public art works including the Parthenon, the Propylaea and a giant statue of Athena Promachus. He was suspended from the office of strategos in 430 BCE, found guilty of theft and fined 50 talents, but because Athens still needed him he was temporarily re-instated. Pericles died in the autumn of 429 but not before he had lost his own two sons to the plague. His was a life of notable service and achievement. There’s little doubt that Shakespeare (and Wilkins) borrowed the tale of Pericles from the two sources already alluded to. The primary source, Confessio Amantis translated as The Lover’s Confession (1393), was written by John Gower, an English poet and friend of Geoffrey Chaucer. Confessio Amantis takes the form of three long poems written in French, Latin, and English that are united by common themes of politics and morality. John Gower, not by chance, plays the role of Chorus in the play. The secondary source is a prose version of Gower's tale entitled The Pattern of Painful Adventures written by Lawrence Twine that dates from as early as 1576 but was not republished until 1607. All this fits together nicely with the understanding that the work was first produced in 1607-1608. The play was extremely popular in Jacobean times but was somehow not included in the 1623 Folio, contested authorship often being cited as the probably reason. Shakespeare’s supposedly co-authored play expounds a somewhat different narrative to that of the historical Pericles and it’s probably good that it does. We meet Pericles in Antioch at the beginning of the play. He has the hots for Antiochus’ daughter but quickly comes to realise that she is in the throes of an incestuous relationship with her father. Antiochus is aware that Pericles has caught on to their dirty little game and Pericles knows it. He departs in somewhat of a rush, his life in jeopardy, and sensibly flees to Tyre. Antiochus, still intent on killing Pericles gives the job to Thaliard who unsuccessfully pursues him throughout the play. Pericles, now back in Tyre, assigns Helicanus to rule as regent and sails from Tyre to Tarsus and then to Pentapolis. There is a shipwreck and Pericles alone survives. At Pentapolis, Pericles takes part in a tournament, wins the hand of Simonides’ daughter Thaisa and the two fall in love and marry. Letters arrive advising that Antiochus is dead and that the people of Tyre want their prince back. Pericles sails for Tyre with the pregnant Thaisa, a storm hastens the birth of their daughter Marina and Thaisa, disastrously, is assumed to have died in childbirth. She is sealed in a watertight coffin and buried at sea but the coffin washes up on the shores of Ephesus and Diana’s priestess, the healer Cerimon, manages to resuscitate Thaisa who, in turn, assuming Pericles is lost at sea becomes a nun in the Temple of Diana. Pericles leaves his baby daughter at Tarsus for Cleon and his wife Dionyza to raise before departing for Tyre. Sixteen years pass and Dionyza has grown jealous of Marina and determines to have her killed. The servant who is assigned the task can’t complete it before Marina is seized by pirates. The servant reports that Marina is dead and Cleon guiltily creates a monument to her memory. Pericles, on a visit to Tarsus, comes across her grave and becomes deeply depressed. Marina, meanwhile, has been sold to a whorehouse by the brigands but is freed by the governor when her honesty causes him to have a change of heart. Meanwhile Pericles, depressed to the point of speechlessness, journeys to Mitylene where he meets Marina by chance and eventually acknowledges her as his child and the two are happily reunited. The governor proposes to Marina and she accepts. Pericles, following a dreamlike vision, travels to Ephesus where he discovers Thaisa in the Temple of Diana and the family is finally reunited. Yes, the canvas is that big! The Clock Tower Lawn of The University of Auckland has been the home of many of the fifty-one Auckland Outdoor Summer Shakespeare productions and most have graced this hallowed – if somewhat dusty - turf. A scaffolding ‘O’ has been created with seating on three sides surrounding a raised platform stage with curtained retiring area at the rear. It’s formal and traditional and most attractive. Forward of the main raised platform is a further mini-stage and there are a number of effective access and egress points. The show had started when we arrived at 7.20pm and we are pleasantly accosted by sailor-types and busty sirens in fishnets and there was an air of gentle debauchery all around. Once seated we could appreciate the 4 piece band who, from the first moment, set about creating ambient, and often anachronistic, sounds that disconnect us from reality and drop us slap-bang in the middle of a time and place where anything is possible. Closer inspection reveals a head impaled on a stake, a large artificial fish, the odd orange buoy, lots of electric blue satin and much else of a seafaring nature. Gower (Caleb Wells) gives us a clockwork orange-like burst to get us going. It’s smart-alecky, tremendously attractive and sexy and sets us up stylistically for what’s to follow. Wells, a favorite of our son’s from last year’s Lord of the Flies, never wavers and we grow to thoroughly enjoy his confrontational ‘take it or leave it’ style. Gower’s lines, I have learned, are heavily ‘influenced’ by those penned by more of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, the feuding, ne’er-do-well Barnabe Barnes' The Diuils Charter (1607) and actor William Rowley, John Day and Wilkins himself who collaborated on The Trauailes of the Three English Brothers (1607). In the hands of the splendid Wells, hyowever, it’s as though they were written yesterday by a modern-day Anthony Burgess or a more than usually acerbic Martin Amis. Antiochus (Patrick Graham) and Pericles (Albert Walker) open the play in a way we all hope will to continue and it largely does. It’s a nasty little scene with a shady subtext and both men – and Antiochus’ daughter – handle it wonderfully. The tension that develops is palpable and when Thaliard (T-Ann Manora) is dispatched to kill Pericles we know we have a play on our hands. Patrick Graham is in formidable humour throughout and his presence dominates the space. Not many actors handle Jacobean text better than Graham and we heard and understood every nuanced word. Antiochus is a mean SOB and I, for one, was glad to see the back of him while at the same time hoping to see much more of him. I saw no more of Antiochus but much more of Graham which was deeply satisfying. A word at this point about the costume design (Troy Garton). From the moment we enter the arena the inventive, bravura costumes are in our face. They fit no real time period but that’s never a problem. There’s a steampunk component to the way the characters dress and this connects them and us delightfully throughout the evening. The design for Thaliard was especially effective as the character sits conceptually outside the construct of the work and it proves to be most effective. Clad in black leather and cocking a snook at Lara Croft, this gender-bending ninja-esque creation was simply fabulous from first to last. The women are uniformly excellent. Lead by the highly capable and experienced Suzy Sampson (a cross-gendered Simonides) this array or artists left little to be desired. Sampson has an extraordinary combination of gifts: she looks great, makes perfect sense of the text, interacts with her fellow cast members marvellously and carries the narrative with seeming ease. Kathryn Owens (Marina) has credibility to burn. Hers is a task beyond most actors but she succeeds outstandingly well. She has to play tough enough to survive yet vulnerable enough to gain our sympathy, and all this while dealing with assassins, pirates and a trio of the cruddiest men, each of whom is fighting to be the one to snatch her prized virginity. In what is probably the most complete scene in director Geoff Allen’s excellent production, Davies fights off Pander, another superb characterisation by Patrick Graham, Bawd, an exotic and terrifying Gina Timberlake and the seemingly never-ending attentions of the deliberately gross James Crompton as Boult. Crompton is especially good and his resurrection, like that of Lysimachus (Dominic De Souza) the Governor, is pure excellence itself. Kelly Gilbride plays Thaisa, Pericles love interest, with sincerity and compassion and Venetia Verner (Dionyza) is spite personified as Cleon’s manipulative wife. Natalie Crane (the healer Cerimon) is excellent throughout but particularly in her earlier scenes. The play’s class structure is particularly well served by Garton’s eclectic design and the separation of ruling class, upper class, artisans and bawds is beautifully defined. The rustic fisherfolk, sailors and pirates are ably led by Regan Crummer who provides excellent comic relief with his assorted band of brigands in which Jacqui Whall particularly excels. Director Geoff Allen has brought this play from a latter, more reflective, time in Shakespeare’s life to a 2014 stage near you and made it sing with every sound that every theatre should utter. Pericles, Prince of Tyre predates The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest by a couple of years but the echoes of what’s to come are already evident – the rambling, idiosyncratic, life-like canvases, a different philosophical bent, journeys of great pith and moment and a change of style that is at once perplexing, pleasing and profound. Shakespeare is taking greater risks and we narrow our vision of his world to make it fit with ours at our peril. Allen’s overarching concept is sound and he follows it through admirably, adding the anachronistic, but somehow appropriate, aural texture of Kay Shacklock’s band and they’re are never far from the action providing quality music when required and the odd burp and fart when needed to further illustrate and engage. Albert Walker takes the title role of the warrior prince Pericles and makes a good fist of it. At his best in the less reflective scenes where his excellent physicality comes to the fore, Walker still has a way to travel to reach the essence of the final act and Shakespeare doesn’t help as the prolonged textual unravelling of the narrative almost defies belief. Pericles is numbed by grief and so out of trust with his fellows that he has become physically traumatised and the slow opening of the door to his future life allows the actor plenty of time to absorb this but also to retreat into his deep distrust of himself and all around him. It’s subtle stuff and requires the most sublime action playing. The parallels with Leontes tortured journey in The Winter’s Tale are noteworthy and it’s clever Mr Shakespeare telling young Mr Actor ‘you’d better be up for this or you’ll simply bore everyone’s pants off’. Walker doesn’t do that, but there’s still more for him to discover which is excellent because he’s well capable of doing that during the run of the play. Pericles, Prince of Tyre, in the safe hands of Geoff Allen and his talented team, is a wonderfully exotic experience with many, many highlights – an excellent multi-player fight (Michael Hurst) with a slight nod to The Hunger Games, cricket with the seafarers during the interval (my son scored many chocolate fish) and some very fine – and often delightfully quirky - performances. As I said at the beginning of this opus, success starts with the casting process and in this Allen got almost everything right, Wells, Graham, Sampson, Manora and Crompton being case in point. The playing time is 2hrs 20 mins with an added interval and the time never dragged. My son’s assessment ‘an excellent production with very fine catering’ - but you’ll have to toddle along to see it for yourself to find out what he means. Wrap up warm though, the night gets brisk and the breeze from the sea can be deceptive. Four and a half stars! Telephone bookings and enquiries: (09) 308 2383 or buy tickets online here Lexie Matheson - 3rd March 2014    
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