Internationally renowned theatre company Cheek By Jowl return to the Barbican with a French-language production of a lesser-known work half-penned by Shakespeare. Unnerving and technically brilliant, an ensemble cast of seven bring this bizarre tale to life.
Director Declan Donnellan places the mad odyssey of prince Périclès (Christophe Grégoire) to find his lost wife (Camille Cayol) and daughter (Valentine Catzéflis) within the four walls of a modern-day hospital room, painted poster blue to represent the ocean. In the real world, Périclès lies in a semi-conscious coma, attended by his family, doctors and nurses, listening to a radio debate on Brexit.
Genius subtle changes in lighting (Pascal Noël), sound design (Kenan Trevien) and movement guide us in and out of the real world and Périclès’ quest. The most moving aspect of this framing device is how Périclès’ family are always by his side, even while in his coma he despairs for losing them. Doctors become Kings and goddesses; nurses become knights; Périclès dumps a bedpan of water over himself as he grows hysterical during a storm.
The play itself is not one of Shakespeare’s finest. Moralising passages about the virtues of women’s chastity, and a bizarre little visit from the goddess Diana, all seem a bit silly by modern standards, although made sense of beautifully by this production’s framing device. While the plot may be confusing (especially with all seven actors playing multiple roles), the language is not, thanks to surtitles and fantastic performances. A strange play to choose, but a must-see for Francophiles and Shakespeare completists.
Périclès is sailing the seven seas, weighing anchor at the Barbican 6 – 21 April 2018.