Ludlow Castle
Opened 24 June, 2000

After over forty years as a theatre director, James Roose-Evans first tried to stage his "ideal" production of Shakespeare's (well, mostly Shakespeare's) late romance The Adventures Of Pericles, Prince Of Tyre four years ago. It included ritual and anthropological motifs from so many cultures that, as I said in my review, it often felt more like a stage version of The Golden Bough. Roose-Evans' vision is now liberated from the cramped space of the smallest of Hammersmith's Riverside Studios and spread instead across the ship's deck of Bruno Santini's design in the inner bailey of Ludlow Castle, as the centrepiece of this year's festival in the delightful Shropshire market town.

The same concept drives this production as that earlier one, but it meets here with greater though still not total success. Narrator Gower is once again cast as a kind of west African griot storyteller; Patrice Naiambana shepherds the action around the Mediterranean and across the years with exuberant command, but sometimes relies on magnitude of delivery to convey a meaning that neither we nor he can quite tune into. As Gower justifies having the citizens of so many lands speak the same language, Roose-Evans again includes songs and chants in Gaelic, Welsh and liturgical Greek, although these are clearly ceremonial in nature.

Ceremony and ritual are at the heart of the production. Roose-Evans (who is also a non-stipendiary Anglican priest) clearly sees the story as first Pericles, then his wife Thaisa and daughter Marina are driven around the Mediterranean and ultimately reunited by the power of the goddess Diana as partaking of the same symbolism as much of the religious impulse, enacting the individual's search for a place and an identity; as one of the programme's epigraphs succinctly puts it, "We are ourselves the mystery which we are seeking to unravel."

In this respect, Stephen Beckett's Pericles is at first impressive as a clear-eyed, youthful quester, but lacks the gravitas to ring the changes to the disillusioned wreck that is Pericles in the pre-reunion final scenes. Emily Pithon as Marina carries a constant, bubbling faith in the power of good so much so that, when told she is about to be murdered on the orders of a jealous foster-mother (Rula Lenska), her response is laughingly incredulous rather than piteously whining. Terence Knapp brings the same indistinct over-acting to all three of his roles, and Lenska applies early the foundations of the flinty jealousy which her chatacter will later exhibit, Lady Macbeth-like. The cast accompany themselves on a range of instruments from Gaelic harps via ancient trumpets to talking drums. And, of course, the setting itself amid the ruins of the castle in which the little princes were imprisoned centuries ago, as the bells of Ludlow's parish church ring out in the thickening summer twilight to punctuate Marina's eulogies and swallows sail overhead adds to the sense that this is spectacle applied to a distinct spiritual purpose.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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