Pericles has never been one of Shakespeare’s favoured plays. Firstly, there is the question of authorship. It is generally agreed that the Bard wrote only the latter half, with the remainder penned by a less talented contributor. Secondly, there is the plot. The meandering nature of the action feels more like a series of separate episodes rather than an unfolding and connected story.
The director of this new version, David Weinberg, chooses to deliver a straightforward and solid production. We follow Pericles as he flees from the injustice of the King of Antioch, going on to win a tournament and thus the hand of the beautiful Thaisa (Thea Collings). A violent storm brings tragedy, leading to the final twist and ultimately a happy ending.
The play starts slowly, which is as much to do with the plot as the production. Logic of the events aside, the action warms up and includes some good individual performances. Gower, played by Philip Mansfield, succeeds in tying the somewhat disparate episodes together, providing light relief and comic explanations to the events. The murderous Dionyza is superbly played by Julia Faulkner, contrasting to Rachael Cuncliffe’s sympathetic performance as the whiter than white Marina.
The setting is also noteworthy: the Rose Theatre is the first Elizabethan Theatre on Bankside and was home to many of Shakespeare’s and Marlowe’s first productions. Today’s stage is a wooden platform stretched over what is fundamentally an archaeological site. It isn’t the easiest space, but the production uses it well, with characters moving between the wooden stage and the muddy excavations below. As in Shakespeare’s times, there is no central heating: we recommend wrapping up warmly.
Pericles is playing at The Rose Theatre until 28 October. Tickets are £12 (£10).
By Rachel Phillips