What a strange tour we get at Kathryn Hunter’s production of Pericles at the Globe.
In fact, we really get three productions for the price of one as Hunter gives us a production that mixes Shakespeare with some breathtaking aerial feats and some west African songs.
Hunter considers the play a healing process for Pericles and, as such, Patrice Naiambana's Gower is transformed into an African griot in response to Hunter's view of the narrator as healer as well. This is made easier by having the same actor play Cerimon, the healer who magically brings Thaisa back to life, and so, confusingly, the narrator becomes participant.
What’s more confusing still, are Gower’s asides on world poverty and colonialism; they seem particularly out of place in this play where Pericles is far away from a colonial conqueror as can be imagined.
Even more troublesome for me is having Gower sing of Pericles’ adventures in another language. The point of a narrator (and of an African griot) is that he tells a story in the audience’s language; it’s lovely to listen to but adds an unwelcome dimension to the play.
A key theme of Hunter’s production is that Pericles’ troubles are psychological as much as physical – in this respect, it’s similar to the current Globe production of The Tempest. This perspective is confused by having two Pericles, an elder and a younger. What’s not entirely clear, according to Hunter's vision, is how much the two are part of the same body - is the elder a passive observer or is he involved in the action?
What we get in particular is a very physical reading of the play; there is much use made of aerialists, especially during the storm scene where the shipwreck is brilliantly realised by the performers.
There is some expressive music courtesy of Stephen Warbeck, who seems to have taken us on a Mediterranean tour. Indeed, music and physical theatre are blended well together. I wish I could say the same about the speaking, there are far too many indistinct speeches - the Globe can be a harsh environment and too many actors failed this challenge.
Not so Corin Redgrave, whose Pericles (the elder) seems to have wandered in from a different play. Not only can we hear every word but there's a real pathos in his performance, his reconciliation with Marina is genuinely touching (although I could have done without the musical accompaniment to the ‘music of the spheres’ speech - once again Hunter seems to have mixed up the physical and the psychological).
This production reminds me of those global fusion restaurants that offer a range of foods from different parts of the world on the grounds that if one likes Indian food and pizzas then one might like Indian pizzas. It’s easy enough to love Shakespeare, African music and high-class gymnastics but in this case, all muddled up in one place, it rather destroys the appetite.
- Maxwell Cooter