Theatre review: A romp on Bard's wild side

By Paul Simei-Barton

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Freewheeling Shakespearean rarity presented in quirky mix of time and place.

Albert Walker plays the title role in a fun but respectful production of Pericles. Photo / Michael Sherrell
Albert Walker plays the title role in a fun but respectful production of Pericles. Photo / Michael Sherrell

This year's Summer Shakespeare eschews the well-worn path of the familiar plays and plunges us into the exotic world of a seldom produced late work that is greatly admired by some Shakespearean scholars.

Pericles presents an outlandish series of adventures with a young prince fleeing assassins and winning his princess through combat. But as the wheel of fortune turns, he loses his wife at sea and leaves his daughter in the care of an untrustworthy guardian.

While Pericles heads home to reclaim his kingdom, his daughter, Marina, grows into a remarkably resourceful woman who is captured by pirates and sold to a brothel.

Director Geoff Allen has scrambled together a quirky, eclectic mixture of settings and time-periods, in keeping with the freewheeling, picaresque storyline.

He strikes a nice balance between respect for the text and an unpretentious sense of fun that is exemplified in an exuberant tournament scene featuring a Hunger Games-style melee with the invigorating clash of real steel.

At times the comic potential of the script seems neglected in favour of the easy laughs that come from throwing anachronistic pop-culture references into the mix, and though the performances are full of energy the overall pace suffers from some untidy transitions.

Albert Walker brings fine clarity of diction to his Pericles while Kathryn Owens is appealingly forthright in expressing Marina's innocence and goodness. The large cast performs at a very high standard. Standouts include Suzy Sampson and Venetia Verner, who establish a strong feminine presence, and Patrick Graham, who finds a lugubrious tone for Antiochus and Pander.

The outdoor setting always lends an unpredictable magic to the show and the perfect stillness on opening night allowed some exquisite bird song to complement the wonderfully versatile live band, though the second half was haunted by the recurrent circling of an intrusive helicopter.

Theatre review

What: Pericles, Prince of Tyre
Where: University of Auckland, Old Arts Quad, until March 22.

- NZ Herald

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