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Pericles review at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London – ‘racy and pacy’

James Garnon in Pericles. Photo: Marc Brenner
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Shakespeare’s Pericles is a prototype of The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest. Episodic in structure, it tells of the various misfortunes that befall the titular hero, the Prince of Tyre, whose narrative resembles that of Leontes with one important difference: unlike Leontes, Pericles does nothing to bring death and destruction upon himself.

He’s just the wrong prince in the wrong place. Much of the time is spent sailing from one country to another, losing his wife in childbirth, pursued by an assassin, getting shipwrecked and ending up a kind of silent schizophrenic. Through a series of extraordinary coincidences he eventually is reunited with his loved ones. It is beautifully bonkers.

In the warm glow of the candlelit Playhouse the absurd details of the narrative acquire a mystical energy that radiates warmth. Director Dominic Dromgoole adopts an airily naturalistic approach which allows for humour in unexpected places.

The set designs are never more striking than the representations of a storm-tossed ship, as a great sail unfurls from the roof, bisecting the stage. Even the chandeliers sway as if buffeted by a high wind. In between the helter-skelter business, there are moments of theatrical magic; the resurrection of Pericles’ wife is poised between credible naturopathy and farce. The meeting between Pericles and his lost daughter Marina is almost unbearably moving; the brothel scene almost unbearably funny.

Buoyed by Claire van Kampen’s allusive music and Sian Williams’ discreetly effective choreography the multi-tasking cast is hugely impressive, notably Sheila Reid as the Chorus, infilling the narrative with a mischievous twinkle, and James Garnon as Pericles who moves from healthy innocence to damaged experience with prodigious skill.

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Shakespeare’s late collaboration with George Wilkins is brought to vivid life in Dominic Dromgoole’s racy, pacy production