Pericles, The Globe, 26 April 2012
The cheery, relaxed attitude that informed the National Theatre of Greece production of Pericles was present from the very start.
A bouzouki player strummed, filling the Globe with calming music. The audience stilled as a tech guy marched to the front of the stage to make an announcement. But instead of telling us to turn off our phones, he called out: “Okay Dimitris, we’re ready now!”
The cast, who had been standing nonchalantly among the groundlings, looking for all the world like ordinary ticket-buying punters, made their way up the steps on to the stage to surprised and delighted applause.
The actors, led by the avuncular figure of Dimitris Piatas waved back at the audience and unhurriedly formed a circle to sing an introductory song.
This was more like a folk music concert than the beginning of a drama.
Dimitris made an excellent Gower, whose reassuring narration punctuated the performance.
The entire cast, in modern but distinctly Greek clothes, remained on stage throughout the performance, coming forward when required for speaking roles, to form crowds, a band of pirates, or to represent the stormy sea. Many of the cast played several roles, which required minor quick changes of costume.
Pericles (Christos Loulis) came to Antioch to solve the riddle posed by the creepily incestuous Antiochus, who openly pawed and kissed his own daughter (Stefania Goulioti). When he worked out that the existence of this unnatural relationship was the solution to the puzzle, Pericles made a quick exit, realising that he was in danger.
Christos immediately won over the audience when, in a confident gesture, he paused and stared up at a passing aeroplane, waiting until its noise had subsided before continuing.
Back in Tyre, Pericles decided to flee his home city lest the king’s murderous intent caught up with him there.
The ensemble represented the people of Tyre, who waved goodbye to the prince as he set off on his travels with his shoulder bag. The arrival of Antiochus’ agent, Thaliart, saw the Tyreans eye him up suspiciously.
As the location of the action shifted, the actors quickly changed demeanour from the jovial Tyreans into the sad, famished people of Tarsus, whose hunger Pericles soon relieved.
The opening of act two, in which Pericles was washed up on the shores of Pentapolis and found by three fishermen, became an extended comedy sequence.
The fishermen spoke briefly in English to ask “Did anybody speak?” on hearing Pericles calls for help. In a moment of pure absurdity, one of them appeared to forget his lines and asked a Greek in the audience, in English, for the Greek word he was looking for.
Pericles lay prone at the edge of the stage with his head draped down into the yard. Another fisherman asked the audience if they had any food. A thoughtful groundling found a crumb of leftover bread on the stage, which was gratefully received. But the fishermen were soon reviving Pericles by stuffing his mouth so full of bread that he could not speak.
The diminutive King Simonides (Manolis Mavromatakis) swaggered around in a natty suit, dark glasses, posing with a pretend cigar. Pericles entered the contest for the hand of the king’s daughter, Thaisa (Maria Skoula), wearing the armour the fishermen had recovered. After his offstage victory, Pericles found himself being feted the victor.
The usually offstage victory party presented an excellent opportunity for the cast to engage in more music making. They sat in a circle with Pericles taking the lead on a tabor, but the dominant sound was that of the double-reeded Greek clarinet, or zournas.
Simonides teased Pericles by pretending not to approve of the match. He held made his fingers into a gun and held it to Pericles’ head, who defended himself by returning the gesture. The Reservoir Dogs style stand-off came to an end when Simonides deftly kicked the “gun” from Pericles’ hand to threaten him with two pretend weapons.
The tension mounted as Simonides stood between Pericles and Thaisa, until with a hearty laugh he moved out of the way away and invited Pericles to accept his daughter. Continuing the game of invisible props, Pericles picked up an invisible cigar from the ground and tucked it into Simonides’ mouth in thanks.
The audience applauded when Gower presented us with Pericles and Thaisa married. The cast stood behind and rocked from side to side making snoring noises to represent the sound sleep enjoyed after the marriage feast. Thaisa’s pregnancy was marked by her top being stuffed with a cushion.
The cast represented the storm buffeting the couple at sea on their return to Tyre, with Pericles forced apart from his wife. The birth of Marina saw Stefania Goulioti dart from behind Thaisa to lie in a heap on the ground. Pericles then comforted his newborn.
Thaisa’s burial at sea was represented by her coat being folded and carefully thrown towards the front of the stage.
Some of the cast began to form a long line of people repeating a rhythmic four-part movement that indicated that they were diseased. Cerimon the physician approached each one in turn, placed his hand on their forehead and lowered them to the ground, all apparently dead. He then began chanting ‘Om’ and revived them one by one.
Thaisa crept under the coat that had represented her casket and, washed up at Ephesus, was brought to Cerimon who proceeded to apply the same resuscitation.
While Thaisa and Cerimon were engaged stage right, Pericles entrusted Marina to Dionyza and Cleon in Tarsus stage left.
Vowing to live a life of chastity, Thaisa donned a white coat to represent her purity.
Dimitris came forward to tell the audience, in English, that they were taking a short break because he had a bad back!
After the interval, Dimitris assured us that his back was better and in the guise of Gower explained, again in English, that 14 years had passed so that Marina was now that age. Stefania Goulioti spoke to correct him saying that she was actually thirty-two.
Dionyza’s disliked Marina outshining her own daughter and enlisted the help of Leonine, who rolled up his sleeves in preparation to murder the girl.
He took Marina for a walk and was about to strangle her when he was conveniently chased away by marauding pirates. The leader of the pirates put Marina across his shoulder, while his men groped her bottom and legs, nodding in approval.
Marina was sold to the Bawd of brothel in Mytilene. Lydia Fotopoulou changed from Dionyza into the Bawd with a minor change of costume, but mostly by adopting a slouching hunch posture, which contrasted with the dignity of Marina’s consistently upright posture.
The Bawd pulled Marina’s hair down, forcing her to wear it long in an attempt to increase her allure.
The scene shifted briefly to Tarsus, as Pericles came to seek Marina. Obscuring the truth of Marina’s fate, Dionyza presented him with her clothes, saying that she had died. Full of grief, Pericles donned a large black hooded raincoat.
Back at the brothel, a large queue of hopeful customers stood with their trousers round their ankles, proffering £20 notes.
Marina dealt with each in turn, scorning their money and pulling their trousers back up again. The last man in the queue did not wait to be corrected but fled on his own accord.
The local governor Lysimachus, in dark glasses and military jacket reminiscent of Colonel Gaddafi, offered Marina money for her body. But the purse he threw on the ground was simply kicked back to him.
Marina’s escape from the brothel and into a life of teaching children was marked by the entire cast singing a Greek children’s song, which they dedicated to the Globe audience. This was a thoughtful gesture entirely in keeping with their winning charm.
The audience gleefully clapped along. But after the song, the line took on a more solemn air.
Pericles, still in his black mourning raincoat, stood hunched at one end of the line as Lysimachus tried to cheer him up by getting Marina to sing for him. The line melted away leaving Pericles and his lost daughter together.
When Marina explained who she was, Pericles initial reaction was to slap her in anger. But when he realised that she was telling the truth, his gruff, slumped figure threw off the raincoat and rejoiced.
He appeared to faint on the ground, a convenient sleep that allowed Lydia in the guise of Diana, her hand touching his head, to instruct him to travel to Ephesus and tell his life story at the local temple.
The cast formed themselves into a semicircle with the characters Pericles had met on his travels arranged in order facing inwards. At the far end of the arc, Thaisa stood facing outwards.
Pericles worked his way around the arc telling his story and jesting with each of the characters, even playfully choking failed assassin Leonine. When he reached Thaisa at the end of the line, she turned around to face him, presenting herself as the reward at the end of his long travail. Marina was also reunited with her mother.
Gower and the others formed a line at the front of the stage. The deaths of Cleon and Dionyza were staged by jostling them. But the atmosphere was nothing but jovial as one the cast announced in English “Now our play is finished!”
A closing song and dance was followed by great applause from an audience that had been completely won over by the simple, unfussy fun of the production.
While they had charmed the audience with their relaxed presence and gift for comedy, the National Theatre of Greece actors had also managed to make the more intense moments of the play believable so that the final reunion of Pericles’ family had some emotional purchase.