tue 19/11/2019

Globe to Globe: Pericles, Shakespeare's Globe | reviews, news & interviews

Globe to Globe: Pericles, Shakespeare's Globe

Globe to Globe: Pericles, Shakespeare's Globe

The National Theatre of Greece plays to the gallery with one of the canon's dodgier works

Propped up: Manolis Mavromatakis’s Mafioso king Simonides hilariously pulling a gun on Christos Loulis’s PericlesSimon Kane

Something extraordinary is happening at Shakespeare’s Globe. However unlikely the appeal, audiences are flocking to every one of Globe to Globe’s visiting productions. But sometimes logic surely cannot be defied. A full house for Pericles, and an ecstatic ovation?

In contrast to ancient Rome, classical Greece is responsible for the lamer ducks in the canon. By a neat twist – possibly deliberate – they are being staged by companies from Greece itself and the country’s current saviour. The German Timon of Athens arrives in the season’s final week. It fell to the National Theatre of Greece, back in this country for the first time since the 1960s, to make sense of the problematic semi-sub-Bardic dog’s dinner that is Pericles, only the second half of which, scholars agree, comes from Shakespeare’s hand. Indeed, the play has spent posterity on the naughty step in the shape of exclusion from the First Folio.

In recent years productions have tried to make sense of Pericles’ pointless Aegean wanderings by turning it into a play about homelessness, not least the company for homeless actors Cardboard Citizens. Its action, if that’s the word, takes it from Antioch to Tyre to Pentapolis to Ephesus, back to Tyre and on to Mytilene. This is a play in search of a plot. And a point. But where Pericles’ flight from injustice, the loss of his wife in a storm and the forcing of his daughter into prostitution would tend to sound a sombre note, here the dominant tone was outright comedy and playful invention. Director Giannis Houvardas had evidently chosen to sacrifice any pretence at exploring serious undercurrents to pitch this Pericles to the gallery. The result was an evening of almost unconfined joy. That much was promised from the moment the company strolled on soliciting applause, decked out in an assortment of rags as if they’d just parked the caravan round the back.

Here was a National Theatre with an instinctive understanding for the Globe’s inclusive space (including the airspace overhead: fists were amusingly shaken at hovering helicopters). Taking a cue from Gower, the narrator delightfully embodied by roly-poly Dimitris Piatas, the storytelling was done simply and expressively. Actors flipped from one character to another with the adjustment of a garment - deftly deploying a shawl, for example, Lydia Fotopoulou (pictured above right) travelled all the way up the social scale from bawd to goddess. Props were imagined into being, Manolis Mavromatakis’s Mafioso king Simonides hilariously pulling, literally, a hand gun on Christos Loulis’s Pericles. Time elasticated for everyone to enjoy the company of the play’s rude mechanicals – in particular three Chaplinesque fishermen. And then there was song. While there was no disguising the play’s longueurs, with an 11 o’clock number the company dragged an appreciative audience towards the tape.

That audience sizeably consisted of a Diaspora who laughed at jokes beyond the indigenous audience. A Greek Londoner I spoke to afterwards advised that the translation’s medieval Greek was three-quarters beyond her too, but that her relatives had understood the lot. Not that the native tongue was entirely ignored. To pleasing effect the cast frequently broke into English – not Shakespeare’s, but their own. “Anybody have anything to give?” asked a starving fisherman, apparently channelling the spirit on One Man, Two Guvnors’ Francis Henshall. “I’m Greek,” he explained to the most uproarious ovation of the night. And someone did offer something (though not a hummus sandwich). “You’re so nice in England,” he replied gratefully. “You should come to the Europe.”

And you should come to the Globe. This miraculous season reaches to the very heart of what theatre is.

Follow @JasperRees on Twitter

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