After last season’s journey into the heart of darkness that was Macbeth and The Changeling, Bristol’s acclaimed Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory (SATTF) return in lighter vein with a production of Pericles, Shakespeare’s late and partial exploration of love, loss and paternal peregrination.
Partial, because it is widely accepted that Shakespeare did not have a hand in the first two acts. The accompanying programme notes that this is only ‘an idea’. Perhaps, but the difference in quality with what follows is bald. What precedes, one has to say, is not bad, but not bard either.
Still, the company, fresh from a successful fifth season which saw them perform for the first time at the Barbican following the decision of the RSC to quit their London home, bring their customary qualities of fleetness, freshness and clarity of exposition and diction to the text.
And the decision of director Andrew Hilton to locate the production in the Middle East of the play lends colour and glamour, thanks to the opulent costume designs of Vicki Cowan-Ostersen and a suitably oriental soundtrack which replaces the customary accompaniment by live musicians.
But, as always with SATTF, the play’s the thing and the chance to see it at close hand, thanks to the intimacy of the venue, and a well-coached cast delivering theatre with passion and intelligence.
Some of the familiar faces from the company’s last few seasons are missing. But the ensemble’s trademark strengths are present and correct. Roland Oliver is excellent as the narrator figure Gower, unfazed even by an interruption to the evening occasioned by a member of the audience being taken ill. Nathan Rimell also impresses as Pericles, full of passion if a little over demonstrative. I also particularly enjoyed Daisy Douglas as Dionyza, wife of Cleon.
With memories of Ninagawa’s stunning production of this play at the National Theatre a few years ago and Adrian Noble’s hugely enjoyable outing at the RSC shortly before that, I wondered whether the production wouldn’t, like the hero, be at somewhat sea. I shouldn’t have worried. This isn’t the finest SATTF production I’ve seen but, thanks to the assured captaincy of Hilton, this late Shakespearean voyage has pleasures enough to warrant booking a berth.