Sunday 17 July 2016

Pericles a sharp-witted feat of whimsy & charm

All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights : Professor A. L. Rowse insists Pericles is a 100% original WS script. It is not, he maintains archly, a bastard hybrid co-written with a saloon-&-brothel keeper named George Wilkins. Whatever. For 30 years after its launch, it was WS's top-seller. And wildly popular a century later to boot.

It's a tale. Not a "tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury". No, a tale of a hero's quest that involves incest, flight, shipwrecks, jousts, marriage, a daughter, a brothel, virtue discovered and rapprochement. In real time the brave new world of Virginia, in The Colonies, beckons folks to venture forth from UK. Ships sail weekly, often never heard from again. Storms. Pirates. Plunder. Burial at sea and/or surprise triumphal returns to home port. Pericles tells all of this and more.

How it's all put together :  Director Lois Anderson conspires with a variety of artistic muses and consultants in concert with the show's creative design team to conceive and fabricate a fantastical vision of this script.

Cerimon is a man of potions, a healer, a wizard. In Anderson's hands, Cerimon rescues Marina -- the daughter of Prince Pericles, he from the city of Tyre in what today is Lebanon -- her name because she was born at sea. Cerimon liberates her, now a 14-year-old, from her brothel prison on the Isle of Lesbos in Ephesus. He then tells her the Tale of Dad.

How in his first quest to marry a princess he must solve a riddle or be killed. Dad does decrypt the riddle, but in doing so discovers incest between Syrian King Antiochus and his daughter. He flees lest this knowledge, if shared, snuff out his life.

Following rescue from a shipwreck escaping the Syrian, Pericles wins a jousting tournament in Greece and thus the favour of King Simonides. He falls in love and marries the prize Princess Thaisa, but she dies during a subsequent shipwreck while birthing Marina. Marina is then fostered to friends in Turkey while Pericles returns, bereft, to Tyre to assume an obligatory kingship.

Marina and Pericles meet each other again for the first time in order for the play to end happily ever after with everyone rejoicingly reunited, even Mom.

What Bard brings to the stage :  As Artistic Director Christopher Gaze has shown the world 27 seasons now, there are dozens of ways to stage the plays of WS. And because the storyline in Pericles races around the Eastern Mediterranean, a straight Quarto production might be a bit of a sea-monster for contemporary crowds to have to wrestle with.

Enter Director Anderson. Turn the storyline upside-down, back-to-front, inside-out. Given its geography and local mythos, why not introduce a bit of the Sufi mystic poet Rumi into the script? And some Greek playwright Euripides to sum it all up? Why follow Billy Bard's five acts in sequence at all? Instead let the magical healer Cerimon tell the story as a kind of fabliau and make its characters all faeries -- the better to enchant the crowd. Why not, indeed.

Production values that add to the show :   Hard to imagine, perhaps, that camouflaged flowing desert outfits atop camou'd skin makeup could be visually compelling. But quite so here. The more to heighten the contrasting neon reds and greens of Marina and the deep aqua blue of mother Thaisa designed by Carmen Alatorre. And her collusion with Amir Ofek's stunning use of a 30 X 8-foot camou sheet was delightfully! co-ordinated. That omnipresent sheet served as wind; rain; a ship; a jouster's race-track; a death shroud; sundry beaches; fishnets. Absolutely clever and choice.

Various relics & talismans & statuettes employed by Cerimon throughout tell this story of a family in love; a family shipwrecked, lit. & fig.; a child left behind, then kidnapped. But ultimately a family reclaimed & reunited after a decade-&-a-half. As Ms. Anderson puts it : "How do we persevere when we're adrift at sea, severed from wherever or whomever is our 'home'?"

Aside from the show's stunning fabrics and oh-so-clever blocking, Composer / Sound Designer Malcolm Dow caught my ear from the very first ship's bell. Lots of sitar, Cirque-like humming solos & duets, hints of Jacque Brel even. There there're the dance sequences, part-Zorba, part-hopak-like jump kicks, part Broadway :  purists may niggle, but the nearly sold-out-sweltering-crowd at today's matinee clapped-&-cheered lustily.

Acting pin-spots :  The repertory troupe doing Pericles that toggles with Othello is to a person smartly cast indeed. These are actors who delight to feed off one another like kids at a summer picnic gorging on hot dogs & s'mores.

In Pericles, the rich stentorian tones of David Warburton as Cerimon are commanding. They linger in my ear well past show's end. Kamyar Pazandeh as Prince Pericles is both authoritative and soft, while Marina as sported by Luisa Jojic gives this talented striker a brace of winning goals in both her outings. 

Serena Malani's Thaisa is impish coquettish good fun, while Bawd and Boult by Kayla Deorksen and Ian Butcher had me nearly widdling myself all afternoon. And how not to mention Jeff Gladstone doing his Cruella-best as the b-witch Dionyza. Oh fun.

Again, as noted, "to a person smartly cast". This bunch has a fun summer ahead of it. As do their fans.

Who gonna like :  Pericles is wild imagination cut loose by all the show's creators but then stitched together into a post-modern dramatic tapestry by Director Anderson that is utterly compelling to watch and hear. This is a reimagining of Shakespeare that the Bard himself would cheer at how embracing and irresistible the flow of action is, how storytelling needn't be linear or static or by-the-book. And more the better for it in spades. 

Go. Be swept up. See genuine originality unleashed by consummate pro's delighting in their craft.

Particulars :  Produced by Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, Vancouver, B.C.   At the Howard Family tent, Vanier Park.  Performances : in repertory with Othello until the September 18th final curtain [see for schedules & ticket information]. Run-time 120 minutes including intermission. 

Production crew :  Director Lois Anderson. Costume Designer Carmen Alatorre.  Scenery Designer Amir Ofek.  Lighting Designer John Webber.  Head Voice & Text Coach Alison Matthews.  Fight Director  Nicholas Harrison.  Composer & Sound Designer Malcolm Dow.  Movement Collaborator Wendy Gorling.  Stage Manager Joanne P.B. Smith.  Assistant Stage Manager Ruth Bruhn. Apprentice Stage Manager Jennifer Stewart.  Directing Apprentice Brennan Campbell.  

Performers :  Ian Butcher (King SimonidesBoult).  Kayla Deorksen (Bawd).  Jeff Gladstone (Dionyza).   Luisa Jojic (Marina, brothel girl).  Kayvon Kelly (Leonine, Lysimachus).  Sereana Malani  (Thaisa).  Kamyar Pazandeh (Pericles).  Luc Roderique (Helicanus, Cleon).  David Warburton (Cerimon).  



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