I somehow managed to talk myself into the idea that Pericles, Prince of Tyre, the second installment in Theatre Erindale’s Blackfriars Project, would somehow be less confusing than Comedy of Errors.
How wrong I was.
Watch enough of Shakespeare’s plays and some trends start to emerge. The guy likes his shipwrecks. I mean, he really, really likes his shipwrecks. He likes shipwrecks so much that there are two of them in Pericles. Shakespeare also has a thing for lost daughters, just-kidding-she’s-not-actually-dead mothers, and the old staple of mistaken identity.
Though director Patrick Young impressed upon me in an interview recently that the main thematic link between Comedy of Errors and Pericles is that they are both about lost families who are reunited, I disagree. I think the biggest similarity is that both plays are such a far stretch from what is actually possible in the world and yet somehow Shakespeare, and both of these productions, manage to pull it off.
Here’s what happens in Pericles. Pay attention, because there will be a quiz.
After running away from a life-threatening situation involving a very pretty but licentious girl, a young king named Pericles (Brett Houghton) gets shipwrecked. He meets another (more pure) girl (Alma Sarai), whom he marries. She gets pregnant. On their way back to Pericles’s homeland, they get (almost) shipwrecked again. Thaisa, the wife, dies giving birth on the ship in a storm. Pericles names his daughter Marina (Marissa Otto) and leaves her in the care of another king (Shawn Doyle) and queen (Lauren Wolanski).
Marina grows up and the queen decides she is too much competition for her own biological daughter. A servant is sent to kill Marina, but she is instead kidnapped by pirates and sold to a brothel.
What follows is the gentle pandemonium of everyone, through miraculous coincidences, getting back together. People come back from the dead. They bump into each other pretty much by accident. The gods inform them of each other’s whereabouts. And in the end it all ties up nicely, with the royal couple reunited and Marina married off to her would-be rapist who turns out to be an okay guy (Shawn Doyle).
The production makes excellent use of the set they have. With a raised platform in the middle of the stage and a translucent curtain that pulls across, the set juggles interior and exterior scenes, ships, and all manner of different kingdoms. Like in Comedy of Errors, the biggest changes happen through the use of projections and lighting. These are incredibly useful in keeping the locations straight.
The whole cast provides solid performances and a good understanding of the (complicated) text. Special mentions go to Houghton and Wolanski, both of whom provide grounded characters both while playing their own age as well as those same characters some 14 years later. I was also particularly fond of Jack Comerford’s performance as two murderers, both sent to kill someone and both of whom fail. It’s a moment of clever, almost meta-theatrical doubling.
Bryn Kennedy gets a lot of contrast in her characters: she goes from playing Marina’s sweet and loving nurse to the bawd who buys the same girl from pirates in order to auction off her virginity to the highest bidder.
Pericles as a play strikes me as a mashup between Romeo and Juliet and The Winter’s Tale. It’s a happy-ending version of the star-crossed lovers and the separated and reunited family. This version, though undoubtedly edited, is still long and at times a little slow. I found myself wanting a little more action-packed speed, especially since there is so much movement already written into this play.
Pericles, Prince of Tyre ran until February 28.