The Olivier stage is famed and revered for its illustrious history, stars and spectacle, shows of all types, featuring talents from far and wide, it has been graced by some almighty talent (including this critic’s younger sister once upon a time) but I doubt it’s staged many shows like Pericles.
Exceedingly enjoyable and enriching performance
Adapted from Shakespeare’s play by Chris Bush with music by Jim Fortune, this exceedingly enjoyable and enriching performance brought together a company of nearly 200 people, launching Public Acts, the National Theatre’s new national initiative to create extraordinary acts of theatre and community. The production marks the centre point of a two-year partnership, building in-depth relationships with eight organisations that deliver visionary work in their communities, together with Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. Fusing community partners with performers recruited through them and seven cameo performance groups who represent the cultural diversity of London: Ascension Eagles, Faithworks Gospel Choir, London Bulgarian Choir, Manifest Nation, The Archetype Dance Team, The Bhavan and The Youthsayers, this show highlighted, deconstructed and deliciously danced with a plethora of preconceptions and diversity on stage.
Drawing its cast and collaborators from all corners of London (and therefore the world) it offered a thrilling and welcome slice of real life by doing away with expectations and just putting on a damn good show.
With some 85 per cent of the cast being drawn from first time, unprofessional or non-actors there was always going to be a caveat to the performance, a realistic level of expectation when assessing a show featuring the very young to those many years older but my expectations were exceeded primarily because of the frisson and excitement in seeing people of all types performing with such heart, gusto and genuine spirit. It was clear this was “their’ moment and every seemed to be seizing it and in Pericles they had a text with themes they could all contribute to.
Theatre like this can clearly galvanise, inspire and democratise the form so congratulations to all involved”
Prince Pericles has everything but understands little. When a reckless act threatens his safety, he must flee his home and take to sea. Reliant on the whims of the fates and the kindness of strangers, Pericles is driven from shore to shore. Only by reaching the ends of the earth may he finally understand what it means to come home.
Giving this adaptation the full musical makeover was a shrewd and successful move. By designing big song and dance numbers with poignant lyrics and waves of emotional or tonal payoff the energy never lets up during its hour and half.
In these magical musical mash ups of dance and drama the fusion of London’s cultural diversity is ramped up so we get; breakdance, ska, bangra, may pole dancing, cheerleading, choir and my personal favourite a very spectacular and shiny disco number which absolutely brings the house down. There really is something for everyone, which is a rare precious theatrical gift from a company that feels like it belongs to everyone. This is none more apparent than in the final moments where the message and words are spoken in a vast number of languages reinforcing a sense of shared identity despite differences. As proceedings were kicked off with the quote “A nation’s worth is truly shown, By how they treat a stranger, not their own”, so they are brought to a close with “You are your own way home” and that message resonates as the cast amass with lanterns, it feels like sage wisdom binding everything together beautifully.
Pericles is a buoyant and bold achievement and it’s a shame this production only had four shows because it was a riotously good time that should’ve been seen and experienced by more. However it ramps up anticipation for Public Act's next project in 2019.
Theatre like this can clearly galvanise, inspire and democratise the form so congratulations to all involved and coming hot on the heels of London’s single biggest show of cultural diversity, Notting Hill Carnival, that was more food for the soul.
Info: Pericles was at the National Theatre from 26 to 28 August 2018 | See National Theatre website for more info