Pericles is one of the few “Shakespeare” plays I hadn’t seen, so I jumped at the opportunity to catch it at the Globe with the other late romances. Having attended Cymbeline and The Winter’s Tale in a standing spot, I’d opted to have a seat (albeit restricted by a pillar), which was definitely the right choice, given how much my legs (and poor, PhD back) were protesting.
There’s been much speculation on Pericles‘s authorship, with general agreement that George Wilkins was Shakespeare’s collaborator. While I’ve read the play before (during a three-week pre-PhD frenzy of tackling the Norton Shakespeare from cover to cover), only a few key moments remained with me (namely, the climactic father-daughter reunion). In this sense, I went into the performance as a novice, a feeling in which I luxuriated because there are only so many times one can experience a Shakespeare/Shakespearean play for the first time (38, to be exact).
The play opened with the “John Gower” character as the Chorus (played by a delightful Sheila Reid), who set the light-hearted, fantastical scene. To my greater delight, Pericles was played by none other than James Garnon, who has cemented himself as my Shakespearean hero. Also wonderful was Simonides (Simon Armstrong), who was a jovial, hilarious father to Thaisa (Dorothea Myer-Bennett). In fact, the whole “tournament” scene was great fun, and I loved all the suitors’ costumes and shields. I also loved the dramatic rendition of the shipwreck scene, where the stage was turned into a breath-taking ship, mast and ropes and all. And of course, Pericles was amazing throughout, running about and resisting the storm, even as his wife was giving birth and facing complications.
The play’s second half got a little messy and even more unbelievable, but I was happy to go along, allowing myself to be delighted by a series of extraordinary events. Unfortunately, I didn’t really take to Marina (Jessica Baglow), whose dignity and virtues fell a little flat. Given I’ve no point of comparison, I’m not sure how the performance could be improved, but I suppose the transformations she inspired were simply in line with the play’s generally incredulous scenarios. All that being said, I found myself extremely invested and emotional during the reunion scene–and, admittedly, I even got a bit teary. The conclusion, while completely beyond belief, was a wonderful crowd-pleaser, and perhaps exactly what I needed. When I finally left the theatre (and the South Bank) after having spent most of my day there, I may or may not have skipped a little, and even twirled around a little.