Pericles: Shakespeare at the George
Heard of Pericles? Me neither, so it was with interest that I found myself at the opening night of this lesser known Shakespearean play performed by the outdoor theatre company, Shakespeare at the George (SatG)
This theatre group have been entertaining the troops annually with one of the Bard’s plays since 1959. They’re all performed in the evocative Jacobean courtyard of the George Hotel in Huntingdon – much like audiences would have experienced in Shakespeare’s own time.
Speaking of Pericles, what’s it’s all about? Watching the play it’s hard to believe it is one of the works of Shakespeare. The language is what you would expect of an Elizabethan play but it’s more of a globetrotting fantasy – it doesn’t sit easily as a tragedy, a romance or a comedy. Maybe that is why Pericles, or at least the first half, is believed to have been a collaboration between Shakespeare and one of his friends George Wilkins.
Adventures flourish in this problem play – the Middle East, incest, shipwreck, storms at sea (I counted three times), famine, a princess saved from assassination at knifepoint by kidnapping pirates, sexual trafficking, a fight over a woman replete with combat and jousting, a resurrected corpse – and that’s just the first half. If Mr Disney is ever looking to re-create a play from the famous canon onto the big screen this would surely be worth a consideration – I’m casting Jonny Depp already.
The second half starts with a wicked stepmother/guardian plotting a jealous murder but as the play unfolds a more familiar Shakespearean voice emerges. Themes of abandoned children, the power of reconciliation, a virgin valiantly shaming a privileged governor and a bent pimp by rhetorical skill, corruption, jealousy and – stop reading now if you don’t want to know how it ends – a happily ever after family reunion.
Producing Pericles is not without its challenges. No other Shakespearean play that I’ve seen (admittedly that’s nowhere near all 37) has quite so many changes of geographical location, with such an array of characters. The versatility of the actors (I counted about 18) was impressive – switching between roles and countries with conviction. The fantasy nature of the first half was given Shakespearean authenticity through the delivery and slick execution of the cast.
Directed by Richard Brown, the minimalist production uses a limited array of props and sophisticated lighting to successfully depict the different locations and moods of the play. On a practical note the weather is unpredictable so wrap up warm and forget looking glamorous – I’m talking ski-gear, blankets and hot water bottles on the night I went and you’ll be as warm as toast. Drinks can be taken through to the outdoor theatre and coffee and delicious cakes were served at the interval.
The reputation of SatG is far reaching and annually the show sells out really quickly. There are still nine days to go, so I’m bashing this post out just to let you know that if you can still get tickets, you really should.
George Hotel, George St, Huntingdon PE29 3AB, buy tickets