Barbican Theatre, London – until 21 April 2018
Cheek by Jowl’s production of Pericles is engaging and passionately performed but can get a little bit lost in translation…
There is no denying that this play written by William Shakespeare and George Wilkins has a lot of ideas and characters thrown into it – goddesses, shipwrecks, love, grief and loss among other elements which somehow come together to make an engaging story about bringing one family back together after tragedy tears them apart.
Performed in French with English surtitles, Cheek by Jowl’s production is for the most part sharply paced, but can at times be overly reliant on long pauses, particularly in the reality segments. However, Declan Donnellan’s staging is also surprisingly humorous and heartfelt in a way that keeps the audience’s attention.
This little known and performed play follows the changing fortunes of Prince Pericles, who meets and marries Thaisa. They have a child together until tragedy intervenes and tears the family apart. Cheek by Jowl has chosen to set it in a contemporary style which very much focuses on the mental health of Pericles, switching between his memories of the past to the present day effectively.
The problem with the way in which the creative team has chosen to unfold the story is that it can be difficult to keep up with which character the cast is playing (all play several characters) – without any noticeable differences in their costume or appearance. This, in turn, means that perhaps some of the emotional connection that the audience may have had with particular characters is lost.
But the show does manage to redeem itself in this aspect in the final heartfelt scene in which Pericles is confronted with the appearance of his daughter Marina which feels particularly raw and draws out great compassion from the audience.
It might be frustrating to watch the story unfold, particularly when new characters come into play, but it is also a surprisingly playful production at the same time. One such highlight is when the knights are all fighting for the hand of Thaisa leading to some beautifully performed comical moments.
The cast throughout are fully dedicated and committed to their roles, with their passion fully coming through their voices and mannerisms that commands the audience’s attention – despite the fast way in which they communicate the dialogue that even the surtitles had trouble keeping up with. Christophe Gregoire as Pericles delivers a particularly intense and passionate performance, his grief and despair painful to watch throughout. Camille Cayol is also a delight to watch as the cold, jealous and calculating Dionysa and Valentine Catzeflis is charming and elegant to watch as Marina.
On the surface the play is a bit of a mess, with too many ideas thrown at it to considered a complete success but Cheek by Jowl’s production makes it seem coherent and heartfelt.