Goodness this is an odd production. One of Shakespeare's more indefinable pieces, translated into French, brutally cut down to an hour and 40 minutes and transported from its Mediterranean locale to a sterile hospital ward. It makes for a fascinating evening, with Cheek By Jowl's production being one that is frantically brisk, occasionally brilliant, and, at times, infuriating.
Pericles is the tale of a prince's journey across the
Within this bold production is an exemplary cast, headed by Christophe Grégoire who stands out in the lead role. His Pericles is the only character who really manages to break through beyond the broader strokes of characterisation on display that seem a necessity due to the multiple parts undertaken by each member of the cast. This isn't to diminish the ensemble's work with each performer making an impression; it is down to the reduced text which means that each cast member has to perform multiple parts at high speed, often within the same scene. By focusing this production firmly on Pericles, some of the incidental characters become dulled. It also feels like the production has lost much of the emotional weight of the text which when fully utilised can be immensely powerful.
Maybe this is intentional. One gets the feeling that with Cheek By Jowl everything is planned, that every creative choice and interpretation has been made with a specific goa in mind. Sometimes this works brilliantly. Nick Ormerod's design is sensational, his set finds a beauty in the sterile environment and is coupled with marvellous lighting design from Pascal Noël. On a technical level, this production cannot be faulted and I found myself in awe of it.
I will confess that I was relieved when Périclès, Prince de Tyr came to a close. The production is such a frantic fever dream, warping and shaping the text to fit an interpretation that by the end it becomes exhausting. This was my first experience of a Cheek By Jowl production, their reputation having proceeded them and it was certainly a fascinating one, illuminating a play that is such a tricky proposition. But having been hewed so closely to fit the chosen hospital setting, one feels that the play loses much of its epic scope. So for all the brilliance on display one can't help but leave the theatre weary and frustrated. This is Shakespeare but not as you know it.