Pericles by William Shakespeare

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BBC Radio 3, 30 November 2008

Pericles seems to me an absolute ragbag of a play, combining romance, tragedy, mythology, sea voyages, long-lost relatives, tyranny and reconciliation in an unwieldy whole. The play is certainly entertaining, but demands a considerable suspension of disbelief. Perhaps radio is an ideal medium for staging it, as it allows listeners to exercise their collective imagination.


This 2005 production, directed by Gaynor Macfarlane, hit upon the ingenious idea of engaging a multiracial cast with a huge diversity of accents. This made us aware of the play’s diverse content, while proving beyond all doubt that Shakespeare appeals to everyone. Gower the chorus was played by the dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah, whose warm, carefully modulated tones not only revealed his sympathy for the character, but implicitly reassured us that all would be well in the end. Pericles (Tom Mannion) spoke in a gruff Scottish burr, which grew more and more pronounced as he tried to make sense of what seemed – to him at least – a harsh and indifferent universe. Dionysa (Aiolja Andoh) had an African accent, emphasizing her remoteness and strangeness, particularly for Pericles’s daughter Marina (Helen Longworth), an innocent woman deprived of her parents and desperately searching for a reliable authority-figure.


Ultimately the play can be considered a romance that proceeds towards the expected happy ending while foregrounding the importance of virtue. Marina proves this beyond doubt as she resists a fate worse than death at the hands of the Bawd (Ayesha Antoine) and her male sidekick Bolt (Nick Sayce), while convincing the aristocratic Lysimachus (Ifan Meredith) to look for a permanent partner rather than seeking immediate gratification with a whore. Meanwhile Pericles retains a na´ve trust in the power of the gods, and finds his beliefs vindicated right at the end when the goddess Diana (Sian Phillips) miraculously appears and in true deus ex machina style resurrects Pericles’s long-lost wife Thaisa (Katherine Igoe) and restores her to her husband. Shakespeare asks us to rely on the higher powers; if we do, then miracles can happen.


This Pericles maintained a consistently high standard of verse-speaking and characterization – a worthy revival of one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known works.