This production of Pericles demonstrates the power of art to transform lives. Over a 120 performers packed the stage. They ranged in age from 4 to 84. They were multicultural and multi-racial. Men and women, young and old. Some in wheelchairs, others on crutches. They were brought together by the company Public Acts to put on Pericles by Shakespeare. Public Acts is a visionary outreach organisation that aims to bring hard to reach individuals and communities into the Arts. They are currently working with the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, Havering Asian Social Welfare Association, Bromley by Bow Centre and others. It was a triumph for the struggle to democratise the arts, reach new audiences, bring under-represented communities to The National Theatre and shows yet again that Shakespeare is for all time and for everyone. I can’t think of a more important development, not just in the arts, but in our evolution as an open and democratic society.
This production of Pericles has been creatively adapted by Chris Bush. She has a clear narrative which both retells the play written in 1608 and makes it live for us in 2018. The director Emily Lim has produced a show which has everything. Dancing (superbly choreographed by Robby Graham), singing, acrobatics, a nightclub cabaret, a May pole, Indian Drummers, a Gospel Choir, a Ska Band, a Bulgarian Choir and much more. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen on stage before. All of life is here. The energy and joy is infectious. The love and warmth flows back and forth from stage to audience in waves of laughter, clapping and empathy.
Jim Fortune has integrated the music seamlessly into the play so that it always furthers the action and deepens our feelings and emotions. The use of sets and props is highly imaginative and playful. I particularly enjoyed the backdrop of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus to frame Marina’s (the wonderful Audrey Brisson) performance in Boult’s brothel-cum-nightclub. Meanwhile, Kevin Harvey’s take on Boult, a sort of pimp, was absolutely hilarious as a cross between Liberace and Paul O’Grady.
The play made the connections between the Mediterranean of 2,500 years ago and today. Pericles (the superb Ashley Zhangazha) and his wife Thaisa (the wonderful Naana Agyei-Ampadu) are shipwrecked as they cross the Med and Thaisa dies leaving Pericles holding the baby. The death of the migrants who drown attempting to cross to Europe everyday was clearly alluded to.
This production of Pericles invited us to think about the big questions : Where is our Home? Do we belong there? What would happen to us if we had to leave? What would it be like to depend on the kindness of strangers? The tragedy of our times is that we are all trapped in nation-states and yet we want to create a global cosmopolitan community. How we get from here to there is the big challenge of our time. This inspirational production of Pericles provides us with some stepping stones for that journey.
- By William Shakespeare, adapted by Chris Bush
- Directed by Emily Lim
- Choreography by Robby Graham
- Music by Jim Fortune and Tarek Merchant
- Cast includes: Ashley Zhangazha, Naana Agyei-Ampadu, Audrey Brisson, Kevin Harvey
- The Royal National Theatre
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