The site-specific production, presented in a co-production with Cardboard Citizens, the UK's only homeless people's professional theatre company, opens on 24 July (following previews from 22 July), and runs to 10 August in the Warehouse, 5 Mandela Way, off the Old Kent Road in SE1.
Directed by Cardboard Citizens' artistic director Adrian Jackson, this unusual partnership with the RSC was initiated with the RSC's Director of Education, Clare Venables, who comments: "The idea for Cardboard Citizens and the RSC to work together was brought to the RSC by the Arts Council about two years ago. I immediately saw that, not only is this a wonderful way for us to put together the artist at the centre of British culture with those who are the most marginalized by that culture, this was also the RSC's opportunity to test our belief that Shakespeare does speak to and for all whatever their circumstances or language. It also, for me, fulfils a key objective, which is why I'm here, to bring those who feel daunted by Shakespeare and 'British Culture' into the middle of the experience, to discover that he isn't part of the establishment, but one of us."
After looking at a lot of plays, Venables and Jackson agreed on Pericles, adds Jackson, "because its themes seemed so entirely pertinent to my company, which has a various times attracted a number of people exiled or seeking refuge, whether from homes in this country or abroad. A high ranking politician is forced to leave his country because of the therat of war from a neighbouring nation, and thus starts an odyssey of exile and loss that develops its own terrible momentum; a young woman brought up by foster-parents is threatened with violence, then kidnapped by traffickers and sold into the sex industry in another country. These are stories straight out of today's papers - but they're not, they're the stories of Pericles."
Earlier this year, the company did a reduced version of Pericles, with an asylum-seeker playing the title role: In Jackson's words, "We played a rapidly rehearsed, cut-down, storytelling five actor version, performing only to audiences of asylum-seekers and refugees in various nooks and crannies across the capital; Iraqis, Kosovo Albanians, Kurds, Turks, Colombians, Iranians, people from various African countries and others." According to Venables, "We decided on Pericles because of the echoes for the homeless and refugees; the random journeys, the loss of people and places, the grief and rage. The mini Pericles we did at the beginning of the year helped by taking the story to refugee centres to test whether it is resonant; they were incredibly powerful evenings. The stories we heard from our audiences at those performances will be woven into the story of Pericles."
The title role is now being taken by two actors: Kevork Malikyan as the older Pericles, and Christopher Simpson as the younger Pericles. The rest of the company includes a mix of actors who have worked regularly with the RSC and Cardboard Citizens.
- Mark Shenton