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Périclès, Prince de Tyr at Silk Street Theatre, Barbican

Patrick Baldwin. Cécile Leterme, Christophe Grégoire, Camille Cayol
Patrick Baldwin. Cécile Leterme, Christophe Grégoire, Camille Cayol

I love the fact that theatre is so much more than just a proscenium arch and a stage. Immersive, site-specific, promenade, there are so many ways in which a play can be put on to entertain an audience. For example, at the Barbican, Cheek By Jowl productions have brought their version of Périclès, Prince de Tyr by William Shakespeare and George Wilkins.

In a very blue hospital ward, a man (Christophe Grégoire) is lying in bed. Although a radio is playing, the man appears to be in a coma. He is being looked after by a Doctor (Cécile Leterme) and two nurses (Guillaume Pottier and Martin Nikonoff). As he lies there, the man’s family (Camille Cayol, Valentine Catzéflis and Xavier Boiffier) come in and sit with him.

All though is not as it would seem, and in a series of switches between the reality of the hospital room, and the journey of Périclès as he travels a world of pirates, magic and double-crossing to find himself, conquer his delusions and find love.

Périclès, Prince de Tyr is quite a complex and convoluted tale, even by Shakespeare’s standards and adding the element of the ‘reality’ of the hospital room would normally be enough to set this production up as different from others that you may see. But Cheek by Jowl, have gone one step further, and the entire play is performed by the seven cast members playing over twenty characters from the original play. Oh yes, and it is also performed entirely in French with English surtitles.

That is a lot of uniqueness for one production and, for me, led to some problems. With the exception of one character wearing sunglasses, there were no changes of costume as the cast assumed different identities. This would have made the action more difficult to follow but, as everyone spoke French and the surtitles were only in one colour, there were occasions where I lost track of who was who. This was exacerbated by the speed which the surtitles updated meaning there were times when I was watching a screen of changing words and not looking at the action occurring on the stage. I was glad I had checked out the basic plot on Wikipedia before going to the performance so I always roughly knew where we were.

Full credit to the cast for the performance itself. Christophe Grégoire, in particular, shone in his various roles (Périclès, Cleon and La Maitre) but all of them did extremely well. One of my highlights was the knights dancing, which I have to say was extremely un-erotic but extremely funny. I was also really impressed with Valentine Catzéflis’ ability to be a statue and not move whilst in quite an uncomfortable position for an extended period.

Director Declan Donnellan has a wonderful amount of space in Nick Ormerod’s hospital set to move the cast around and create the various locations visited by Périclès in his travels and uses it to great effect. When Périclès is on a boat, you know he is and when other locations are visited, they are there in your mind.

Overall, although this version of Périclès, Prince de Tyr is well put together and extremely well performed, it really didn’t work for me. My schoolboy French meant I spent a lot of time reading the surtitles rather than concentrating on the performance. I realise that slowing the surtitles is not an option as they are running at the same time of the speaking but I’m surprised the producers didn’t find a way to at least have the surtitles coloured differently for different characters – especially when they were speaking at the same time. Having said that, I was fairly impressed with the production overall. The story itself is quite fascinating and the cast really throw themselves into this production and really deserved the hearty applause they received at the end.

3 Star Review

Review by Terry Eastham

Périclès, Prince de Tyr is one of Shakespeare’s strangest and most heart-rending plays. Pericles, shipwrecked on the Mediterranean navigates a stormy sea of pirates, magicians, brothels, kidnappers, tournaments, plots against his life… and divine intervention from the Goddess Diana. Incest, treachery, murder, love, joy all explode in this giant theatrical firework … the embers dim and glow in one of the greatest and most moving scenes Shakespeare ever wrote, Pericles recognition of his long-lost daughter Marina.

Cheek By Jowl in a co-production with the Barbican, London;
Les Gémeaux/Sceaux/Scène Nationale; Théâtre du Nord, CDN Lille-Tourcoing-Hauts de France

Cast: Christophe Grégoire, Camille Cayol, Xavier Boiffier, Cécile Leterme, Valentine Catzéflis, Guillaume Pottier, Martin Nikonoff
Director: Declan Donnellan; Designer: Nick Ormerod

Les Gémeaux , Sceaux, Paris, France                        7 – 25 March 2018
Maison des arts de Créteil, Créteil, France             28 – 30 March 2018
Barbican                                                                         6 – 21 April 2018


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