On Tuesday night to see the Bell Shakespeare’s production of Pericles at the Drama Theatre. This was billed as a co-production with the percussion group Taikoz. I don’t know if this is always the case, but I noted that the membership of Taikoz was differently billed for Sydney and the ensuing Melbourne season.

It was a wet night and there didn’t seem to be anything else on at the Opera House. This felt odd on the way in, and even odder after as we forlornly (as in forlorn hope) retreated in the wind and rain from the vast and almost dark mass of the House.

The production has received almost universally mixed reviews. One advantage of this is that it is difficult to be disappointed.

As to the “concept” of the production (exoticism; references to I think Japanese theatrical style which went beyond the music, which eclectically went as far as Gamelan pastiches), this snippet from Wikipedia has subsequently caught my eye:

Adrian Noble’s 2002 production at the Roundhouse (his last before leaving the RSC) stressed diversity in another way. Responding to critical interest in Orientalism, Noble accentuated the multicultural aspects of the play’s setting…. In an echo of the music played during the interval of the 1619 Whitehall performance, Noble featured belly dancing and drumming during the intermission of his production.

Others claimed to appreciate the shift to quality in the second half, which is usually thought to contain a higher proportion of William S’s own work. I personally found it the other way around. The first half, while clunky, was made bearable by the narrative mode and in particular the added attraction of Taikoz’s live music which was an integral part of the production (and, proportionate to the number of actors, a substantial part). In the second half, the plot just seemed to stretch on and on and towards the end the musical elements became attenuated. Intense longeur was punctuated by forced guffaws. Forced, that is, by necessity. We were there. There was some silly and funny business (funny voices; funny walks; smut). We’d paid our money. We might as well laugh. Well, that’s how I felt.

Because this is the Bell Shakespeare, everyone except for Marcus Graham in the title role played multiple parts.

John Gaden had the most of this. He can be funny (as another has commented) reciting the telephone directory, but I felt that he was hardly taxed by a kind of hammish comedy which he can lay on by the yard as a funny old gent. He is capable of more interesting work than this. He did carry off a very silly hat with memorable aplomb.

Everyone’s had sport with Marcus Graham, who at the end of the play, whether by reason of grief or age, all of a sudden bungs on a totally new accent. Some have mentioned Olivier, others Peter O’Toole as the original: I thought it was Edward Fox (in his apparently type-cast from life blimpish ancient mode).

It’s early in the season, which probably means it is too early to judge the effect of reviews from the attendance, which struck me as pretty healthy for a Tuesday night. I was also struck by the proportion of the audience which seemed to be made up of groups of women rather nicely dressed up for a night at the theatre. I didn’t spot any equivalent male groups.

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