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Thursday, 14 July 2011

Pericles re-imagined, Regent's Park Theatre

The warning: "suitable for children 6 years and up" told me immediately that this was not to be your standard Shakespeare production. Sure enough, I seemed to be the only audience member without an excited child on my arm. As we entered the auditorium for the 10am Sunday performance (no weekend lie-in for me) I was handed a flimsy programme that cleverly opens out to be made into a pirate's hat. Pericles re-imagined is a new production being performed in the magical Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, an adaptation of the classic play that caters for the whole family.

The play is abridged with the first two acts of Shakespeare’s original script omitted, and yet the narrative stays very much intact, a surprisingly coherent plot despite regular jumps back and forth through time. Director Natalie Abrahami gives the focus to Marina, a pretty young girl, born dangerously at sea and left to be brought up by an evil guardian Dionyza. She is kidnapped by pirates and forced to perform as a singing mermaid in a circus show. While we watch her maritime adventures, we are also very much involved in the quest to find her long lost father.

A tiny cast of six take on all the play's characters, resulting in some very tricky but brilliantly managed character switches, which are genuinely hilarious at times. Hara Yannas is very personable as the innocent Marina. I have previously seen her excelling in Chekhov and here she is just as convincing, encouraging the kids to wave their boats and pass a message in a bottle across the stalls in the hope that it will find her dad. Gary Milner as Pericles is regal and speaks the Shakespearean text with a humble charm and deep understanding. It is Liza Pulman who stands out most for me though, with a strong singing voice and an ability to metamorphose from malevolent Dionyza to kind Goddess Diana in seconds which is quite magnificent to watch. Pulman is very engaging and has a brilliant sense of comic timing.

Pericles succeeds in the ultimate challenge: to stage a children’s panto that will also appeal to the mature audience members, I was very impressed.
Continues until 23 July, book here.

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