Thursday, 12 April 2018

REVIEW: Périclès, Prince de Tyr at the Silk Street Theatre, Barbican

Cheek by Jowl have built a prestigious international reputation for their innovative and daring reimagining of classic texts including several in Russian. This production of Pericles is their first in French, with a French cast and co produced with several French institutions. It plays in the U.K. during April at the Silk Street Theatre in the Barbican London and the Oxford Playhouse before travelling back to France and Spain.

Director Declan Donnellan and Designer Nick Omerod, the founders and artistic directors of Check by Jowl certainly know how to challenge their audiences and this production running to just over 100 minutes without an interval requires intense concentration with a good grasp of both French and the play to really be enjoyed. Without either, it is extremely hard work to piece together what is going on as they have reset the whole play in a modern hospital.

It appears to take as it's guiding thought the line "This is the rarest dream that e'er dull'd sleep did mock sad fools withal" and presents Shakespeare's tragicomedy romance as the inner thoughts of a man emerging from a coma or general anaesthetic in a stark deep blue hospital ward. The programme describes the play as a "painful adventure", which such a coming out of a deep sleep must surely be but is also a confusing one.

With long scenes where the medics supervise in silence (aside from a French radio channel) the man in the coma, lines spoken in a strong declamatory French style and actors doubling up in different parts at a switch of a light, at times one is left staring at the surtitles trying to piece together what he is imagining.

The Shakespearean story eventually emerges of a King separated from his daughter, Marina at her birth from which his Queen, Thaisa, is believed to have died. Although in this version both mother and daughter are at his bedside throughout awaiting for him to awake. This in my view lessens the impact of the reunion which provides the emotional climax of the original play ; it feels quiet different to have lived two decades believing both are dead, than to awake and realise it has all been a coma induced dream.

The light changes and watery sounds effects signal changes of location or mindset without giving any real clue where we are (the subtitles provide clues). There are several physical moments that work well: the fight scene in the corridor outside, the seduction of Thaisa by Pericles and the birth and delivery of baby (a pillow) into arms of Pericles. These mimes are accessible, well imagined
and interesting.

The ensemble cast of seven have to work very hard and have their moments, in exaggerated grimaces and posturing to the audience which produces giggles of amusement but the distraction of surtitles and the confusion of characters means we never fully engage or feel for any of them. 

The knowledgeable audience at Silk Street appeared to love it but I felt like the "mocked sad fool dull'd by the dream" and grateful for the final curtain call. 

There is a live streaming of the show on 19th April. 

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★

Seat: Row E | Price of Ticket: £28
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