The immersive style of the York Shakespeare Project lifts their latest production of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, directed by Sophie Paterson. Drunken sailors are sprawled across the steps as you approach the Upstage Theatre in York, and as you enter you’re urged to make your way up to the Ancient Gower – an eighteenth-century pub fitted with a real bar and real wenches. As the audience fill the room and more characters enter the room becomes abuzz with our cast for the evening.
The pub setting for the play is a stand alone performance in itself – audience members can even order drinks and be served by bar wenches during the performance. Pericles becomes a tavern tale that is playfully acted, danced through and observed by the Ancient Gower’s customers. They holler and heckle their fellow actors, substitute rags and aprons, stools and tables, for props and costumes. All of the design elements from Amy Rhianne Milton are so in tune with Paterson’s settings and make the most of the minimal yet effective set.
We also have the addition of song in this production, which, directed by John Robin Morgan, was another element of the new setting that rejuvenated the play. The romance of the song and dance for Pericles and Thaisa’s meeting that continued as a musical motif throughout was especially strong, adding a mystical element to their love and a moving touch to the play as a whole.
Andrew Isherwood leads as a stoic Pericles, holding his own throughout the performance amongst a cast who take on a range of characters. Nick Jones (Antiochus/Simonides/Lychorida) and Emily Thane (Marina) gave impressive performances, and Claire Morley (Antiochus’ daughter/Thaisa/Bawd) must be noted for her ability to command the room in each part she played, be it a virtuous Thaisa or the sordid Bawd. She led her team of bar wenches with flair and delight, and her animated style redeemed some of this production’s faults.
Pericles is a famously difficult play, and there are times when this cast feels weighed down by it. The earlier and middle scenes lacked energy, even with the addition of music, and the added comedy to these scenes did not always hit home. This left some of the interplay between the pub setting and the play itself feeling lacklustre at times, with both the cast and audience attempting to plow through the more tedious scenes.
The final half hour, however, does well to transform this performance back into the vibrant show the initial setting promised. The arrival of Marina (Thane) gave the play a new momentum, and the closing song lifted the entire performance into the realm of bawdy, feet-stamping joy it had promised to be. If the energy that propelled those closing scenes could find its way into the earlier acts, as it may well do as the run continues, Paterson’s new choice of setting will have transformed this lesser-known play.
Pericles, Prince of Tyre runs until Saturday 23rd April at the Upstage Theatre, York. You can purchase tickets here.