Pericles, performed by the National Theatre of Greece

Pericles, as performed by the National Theatre of Greece, begins with the actors in a song circle that reads like a meditation.  The play ends with the ensemble spread in a half circle onstage–the circle only made complete by the Globe audience.  This Pericles is a playful and mournful reflection of life’s journey.  Mostly playful.  But the weighty moments sit heavily enough to make their mark, as we witness Pericles winning a wife and daughter, only to lose them moments later and miraculously regain them in the end.

Having seen the Globe’s own aerially-inspired production of Pericles in 2005, as well as a smattering of other productions over the years, both before and since, I have come to expect the free interplay between actor and audience, stage and space that the Globe offers.  It is, in part, the relationship established with the audience that provides each production with its essential magic.  Given the quick turn around for Globe to Globe visiting ensembles, whose rehearsal time in the space is quite limited, I wondered how this company and director would manage the art of connection.

From the top, it’s clear that the production will be engaging, as the actors bound onstage from the audience with the narrator (Dimitris Piatas) taunting and inviting: “let’s play.”  And play, we do–riding on a poetic tide of Greek till we’re pulled up short by selective phrases in English.  A subtext-filled moment that brought down the house: When a ship-wrecked Pericles (Christos Loulis) fails to beg food from three ambivalent fishermen (Minas Chatzisavas, Kostas Vasardanis, Giorgos Glastras) he beseeches the audience, “Please, I’m starving–I’m Greek!”  Later, a gang of men wave twenty pound notes at Pericles’ daughter Marina, who has been stolen away to a brothel.  In a production so carefully conceived to connect, the contemporary references are funny and thoughtful.

Weaving deliberately between tragedy and comedy, spoken poetry and song, broad physical comedy and quiet realism, the ensemble moves through Pericles’ perilous life-journey with the audience in tow.  Not that we aren’t willing to go–but this is a difficult play in any language!  A contingency of Greek-speakers in the audience joyfully lead the way, while the rest of us hold tightly to the eloquent body language of the ensemble. Admittedly, part of the pleasure of this production is watching the watchers whose love of this experience is so apparent.

Along the journey are moments of sheer brilliance–both chilling and raucous.  As Antiochus (Giorgos Kotanidis) sensuously fondles his daughter in full view of her suitors, the Globe and all, the depth of his ugly crime is revealed.  When Thaisa (Maria Skoula) makes her affection for Pericles clear, her Tarantino-esque father Simonides (Manolis Mavromatakis) plays the role of gruff matchmaker to the hilt–or holster, as it were.  Upon Pericles’ realization that he has found his assumed-dead daughter, Marina (Stefania Goulioti), the perceived silence as he “hears the music of the spheres” provides poignant contrast to all the other evening’s sounds.

Perhaps the most enlightening moment, for this audience member in any case, occurred near the end of the play, when Pericles visits Diana’s temple to recount his life’s journey.  Making his way around a semi-circle of characters from his past, Pericles meets his life anew, almost as if it were flashing before his eyes prior to death–an inspired turn by director, Giannis Houvardas.  Subsequently, Thaisa and Marina happily rejoin Pericles–seemingly in life, though quite possibly in death, as this interpretation seems to suggest.  A lively party song rounds out the evening, bringing the audience back to remembrance that the journey has not quite ended.  The circle of connection complete, like the great globe itself.

Dr. Becky Becker
Associate Professor of Theatre, Dept. of Theatre

Columbus State University, Columbus, GA, USA