Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Pericles

William Shakespeare
Re-imagined for everyone aged six and over
Open Air Theatre Regent's Park
(2011)

Pericles production photo

Of Shakespeare's works, Pericles does not at first strike me as the most easily adaptable for a young audience. Our hero first takes to the seas to escape death at the hands of an incestuous ruler who fears Pericles could make public his nasty secrets. Happiness is then snatched from Pericles when his young wife Thaisa dies at sea giving birth to their daughter who some years later is kidnapped by pirates and forced into prostitution.

In the capable hands of the team at the Open Air Theatre all adult themes are expunged or heavily disguised without any big gaps showing, and the characters' quests and adventures are played more as escapades. The emphasis of the story is much more on Marina, Pericles' daughter, than the sea captain himself and she is portrayed as a fairytale innocent who sweeps floors, talks to the fish much as Cinderella makes friends of birds and is put upon by her wicked guardian, Queen Dionyza.

Marina's fairy godmother comes in the form of goddess Diana, wand in hand, and in a white wig and shimmering gown, one of several visual references to Disney characters and panto stories that put the younger audience in a comfortable frame of mind. Liza Pulman triples up and some as a caring Diana, a scheming Queen Dionyza, an honourable Thaisa and others.

Nigel Barrett's roles include a strong man which hit the funny bones of the young ones and a lovely dotty professor-style Cerimon who was my young companion's favourite (she also recommends the flapjacks). Hara Yannas as Marina is an engaging heroine and the reunion between her and Gary Milner's endearing Pericles is genuinely moving and welcomed with applause.

The distinctive costumes designed by Hannah Clark (Queen Dionyza in black and purple with octopus-inspired hair is particularly conspicuous and witty) take any spookiness out of the otherwise difficult or macabre happenings and go some way to help guide young minds through the goodies and baddies action. That said, I am doubtful whether most six year olds could follow the story fully, even with these big visual clues and occasional explanatory songs. Unlike with last year's Macbeth I was intermittently conscious of the target age of the presentation being at variance with that of the language.

Director Natalie Abrahami though keeps up a good pace and uses some imaginative devices so this Pericles is enjoyably watchable even for the youngest and the entertainment quotient rarely sags.

"Pericles" Runs until 23 July. Suitable for age six and over.
Monday to Friday except Thursdays 1.30pm, Saturday 9.45am, Sunday 10am and 1.30pm.

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti