Hail Pericles, Prince of Tyre


On Saturday, in Stratford Ontario, I saw ‘The Adventures of Pericles’ by William Shakespeare.

The play was staged at the Tom Patterson Theatre, which always makes me think of a converted hockey arena. However, I am unkind. The building started life as the winter home of the Stratford Badminton Club.

It’s a classic Shakespearean stage with an enormous tongue, so that most of the seats are on either side of the stage, instead of in front of it. Like all Shakespearean plays all the props must be carried on stage and off again by the actors. When staging a play that covers five different cities, a birth aboard a ship in a storm, and a shipwreck the director has some challenges. Pericles moves around a lot.

One particular effective staging was the birth scene aboard a boat in a storm. A hawser was used to outline the boat on the stage, where actors held onto it and pitched in the storm. White sheets from the top of the four poster bed became the sails, and within the bed, the babe is born and the mother dies.

The four-hundred and eighty patrons that make up the audience are close to the action. There is nothing to separate the audience from the actors, and, if you wanted to, you could run onto the stage during the production. I didn’t. I have a feeling that doing something like that would get me turfed from the theatre, and possible put in jail.

What this means for the patrons on the first row is that the fight scenes are not just in your face, they are almost in your lap. You can’t help ducking when they start swinging their swords.

You can gather that I enjoyed it more than I expected. Small wonder it was such a hit within Shakespeare’s life. The writing in the second act shows the bards touch with words. In one scene, Marina, who has been kidnapped and sold to a brothel in Mytilene, saves her virginity by convincing the men that they should seek virtue. As this unfolded before us, no one coughed or shuffled their feet or fiddle. The audience held their breath.

Then a little later, Pericles who has fallen into a deep depression discovers in the woman sent to care for him, his daughter. Remembering the scene today brings more tears to my eyes. His joy and happiness filled the place.

I’d like to see another staging of this play. I don’t know how much of my enjoyment rests with this particular performance rather than the work itself. Perhaps Scott Wentworth turned a weak play into an enjoyable one. If that’s the case imagine what he might do with better material.

If you live within driving distance of Ontario, consider coming to Stratford to see this play.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net