The Comedy Of Errors – December 2011


By William Shakespeare

Directed by Dominic Cooke

Venue: Olivier Theatre

Date: Tuesday 20th December 2011

I liked the liveliness of this production, and the contemporary London setting was effective too, especially in the chase sequence. I felt the cumbersome nature of the set slowed things down a bit at times, but overall it was a really enjoyable production with some good performances.

The opening scene was set in a disused warehouse, with lots of balconies, windows and stairs, very effective when they were miming the shipwreck in Egeon’s story, although this was one of the times when the set did slow things down. At first it looked like Egeon was being mugged, with the Duke’s men taking his money, and I suspect they kept a fair bit for themselves before they handed the rest over to the Duke – that’s how he can estimate Egeon’s resources so accurately. When the Duke turned up he wasn’t friendly, but once he’d heard Egeon’s story he was kinder to the man.

The scene changes were covered by a street band singing familiar songs in a foreign language – couldn’t tell you which ones, though a couple of the tunes were familiar. For the next scene, the buildings rotated to reveal street cafes with metal tables and chairs in amongst office buildings – London, in effect. There were several other people at the café, and when Antipholus of Syracuse beat up Dromio of Ephesus he also caused mayhem with the food and drink on the tables.

The next scene was at the Phoenix, an ultra modern housing development nestled between two older buildings. Adriana and Luciana were on the first floor balcony, and Dromio of Ephesus spoke to them from the ground level, hiding under the overhang to swig from a bottle. This setting restricted the women’s movements, and I felt it held the scene back a little, certainly from our perspective, being close in. It may have worked better for people further back.

The following scene was set in a snooker hall, where Dromio of Syracuse found his Antipholus playing at one of the tables. Dromio got into trouble, yet again, for not knowing about his twin’s visit to this Antipholus, and Antipholus made good use of the snooker cue to give him a beating. This done, and some sense of jesting restored, we saw the two women walking past the snooker hall window. When they saw Antipholus, they came in, drawing the attention of the other men in the place, with several lewd looks and a whistle or two. Adriana was very seductive in her complaint to Antipholus, and there was the usual laugh at Antipholus’s amazed comment “To me she speaks”.

Antipholus and Dromio went along with the women’s mistake, and soon arrived at the Phoenix. They all went up in the lift (only just squeezed in) and shortly afterwards Antipholus of Ephesus entered with his two companions and his Dromio. As I recall, while they were going through their discussion of welcome versus food, we got to see Luce herself tidying up on the balcony. The banter between the Dromios was largely conducted over the speaker phone; once Antipholus of Ephesus joined in, the argument became even rowdier, and when Adriana joined in, she stepped out of the upper room, clad only in a bedsheet! Lunch was a short meal that day.

Once the Ephesian pair have left, Luciana and Antipholus of Syracuse have their scene downstairs, coming out of the building. Dromio joined his Antipholus there, running away from the kitchen maid. His descriptions of her were pretty funny, though not the best I’ve seen, and then Antipholus sent him to the harbour to find a ship leaving that very night. The goldsmith then turned up and gave him the gold chain, after which they took the interval.

The second half started with the Porcupine on the right and a jeweller’s on the left. Antipholus of Ephesus was soon arrested – the goldsmith handed even more cash to the officer than the merchant, so the officer kindly gave the merchant his money back – and the wrong Dromio was sent to get the money from Adriana. This time, however, we were inside the building, and Luciana and Adriana were wheeled onto the stage front and centre. Adriana was lying face down on a massage table (in theory) and Luciana was sitting in a chair having her nails done. Luciana’s expressions were very good here, showing her sympathy for her sister at her (presumed) husband’s abuse, then concern about telling her of said (presumed) husband’s proposal, then self-satisfaction as she recounted the ways in which she had been praised.

Adriana was lying on the table for the first half of this; she kept lifting her head up so she could question or complain, and her masseur kept putting her head back down in the slot, which got some laughs. When Luciana got to the proposal, it was too much for Adriana, and she got up. The masseur held her robe for her, so she was fairly decent by the time Dromio of Syracuse ran in, out of breath. With Dromio despatched carrying the money, Luciana wheeled off her chair, and after another few lines Adriana left with her table.

I think this was the point where there was a knife shop on the left and an empty one on the right, and this was the setup for the chase sequence. The empty building on the right soon had a woman posing in the window, and was revealed as a knocking shop; the courtesan came out of here to accost Antipholus of Syracuse about the chain he’d promised her, and a group of these women ganged up on the hapless visitors. After their departure, and the courtesan’s decision to visit Antipholus’s wife (troublemaker!), Antipholus of Ephesus and the officer came on for the encounter with Dromio of Ephesus. This was followed by the arrival of Adriana and a small entourage, including Pinch. This was a better version of Pinch than some, a modern dress charlatan, and when he was trying to take Antipholus away, a small ambulance van came on stage, and a remarkable number of medical staff came out of it! This led to the chase sequence, and here we had lots of medical folk running around, not quite Keystone cops, but almost that level. One of the team tried to put a straightjacket on someone in the audience, presumably because he/she was wearing a red top, vaguely like the Dromios’ Arsenal strip.

With the two men caught at last, and taken away for their recovery, the other Antipholus and Dromio crept out of the knife shop, carrying some very large kitchen knives. There was another confrontation or two, and finally they were chased into the Abbey, in this case the Abbey Clinic, an imposing looking building with a nameplate and letters above the door. The Abbess, who ran the clinic, was very definite that no one would be entering her clinic to take the men away.

When Luciana suggested an appeal to the Duke, Adriana got her iPhone out, and was scrolling through her contacts for the Duke’s number. She didn’t need to call him, though, as he turned up himself for Egeon’s execution a few moments later. The rest of the story was staged very nicely, and I sniffled a bit, as I usually do – I like happy endings. I also love the way this family, separated for years, take so long to realise what’s going on.

We enjoyed this production very much. The two pairs of twins were well cast to match each other, although the Dromios’ frizz wigs and some padding under the clothes helped a lot too. Mind you, they needed the padding to take the sting out the many beatings they got. The Ephesus pair talked with London accents, while the Syracusans had strong African accents – this really helped to differentiate them, and was a good reminder that the Syracusans were strangers in a dangerous city. I did find Adriana a bit muted compared to the usual interpretation, which was a surprise, but other than that the cast did a great job. I felt they could have done more with Egeon – they did have people walking through the set during scene changes, as well as the band – but it’s a very minor quibble when the performance as a whole was such great fun.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at

Noughts And Crosses – January 2008


By: Malorie Blackman

Directed by: Dominic Cooke

Company: RSC

Venue: Stratford Civic Hall

Date: Thursday 17th January 2008

This came across even better than last time, mainly because I was familiar with the story and could get into it a lot more than before, and partly because we had a different angle, so we caught some things we hadn’t seen before, giving us a fresh take. There were no real changes that I could spot, but I did notice during the funeral get-together where Sephy is rejected, that one of the other mourners had an armband on. The symbol on it was red, with four black diagonal lines, and several white concentric circles over that – possibly the Liberation Army symbol? I was also moved to tears several times, such as when Lily’s ordeal is uncovered, when the bomb was being reported, and at the end.

The courtroom scene had seemed very jumbled before; this time it came across more clearly, with the participants easier to identify. I noticed throughout the play that the actors were working hard to move around and give us all a chance to see what was going on, and it worked a treat. We did have the advantage of having seen it before, but even so, they did a great job.

The performances were all still fantastic. Callum’s father’s part came across more strongly this time, and I also noticed Sephy’s mother more, helped by the change of angle – the look of suffering on her face was deeply moving. This woman has been through a lot, and this time I was more aware of Sephy not having the experience to be able to understand her mother, rather than Sephy’s own frustration at not being understood. It was a lovely performance, and one of the best in an amazing ensemble production.  I was more aware of my ideas changing, and I was tremendously impressed by the range and depth of this production, ostensibly aimed at teenagers, but with more power than many more “grown-up” shows.

Having re-read my original notes, I suspect that my reason for suggesting a lack of depth in the characterisations was through not being familiar with the play. I didn’t have that feeling this time at all, and the power of the piece was what I took away with me. I also wondered if Sephy’s mother and Callum’s dad had been having an affair, as Jasmine, Sephy’s mum, is so keen to see him get off. Could this be the source of the rift between the two women?

This production was well worth seeing again, and good luck to them on tour.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at

Noughts And Crosses – December 2007


Adapted by Dominic Cooke from the novel by Malorie Blackman

Directed by: Dominic Cooke

Company: RSC

Venue: Stratford Civic Hall

Date: Wednesday 19th December 2007

This was a powerful drama, well acted, and successfully aimed at the younger generation. Starting from the problems of racial segregation and repression, Malorie Blackman’s story of the love between a young boy and girl takes the Romeo and Juliet theme and turns things on their head, producing a modern story told by adolescents about the difficulties of growing up and leading a life of your own choosing when society’s prejudices stand in the way. A lot for one evening, and it’s amazing how it all gets fitted in – Dominic Cooke has adapted this really well, though not having read the book I can’t say how faithful he’s been, just that this works well as a drama.

I felt the first half was a bit slow, but it did set up the characters and situation well for us. The second half introduced the other family, and this helped to round out the relationships and the context of a repressive society. The plot concerns Callum, a young white man, and his friend Sephy, a young black woman. In this society, whites are called “noughts” and blacks, “crosses”, or “blanks” and “daggers”, respectively. This is a society in which black people are well off, in charge, and determined to keep it that way. White folk are despised, denied opportunities and treated like shit. Naturally, Callum and Sephy’s friendship doesn’t go down well with anyone, and they go through all sorts of ups and downs in their relationship to each other, as well as their family and friends, culminating in Callum’s refusal to save his own life as it would mean Sephy agreeing to abort their baby. The play ends with Sephy cradling her new born girl – a ray of hope for the future.

Along the way we get to see how people can become involved in violence and lose their way when so many bad things happen to them and their families. Callum’s sister was beaten up for dating a cross, and retreats into madness for a few years before killing herself. Callum’s Dad gets involved with a Liberation group, and allows himself to be convicted for setting off a bomb which killed seven people. He does this partly to protect his other son, Jude, who was involved, and partly out of grief for his daughter’s death (at least, that’s what I reckon). His determination to die leads him to attempt escape, which gets him killed. Sephy herself is beaten up at school for daring to sit with noughts at lunch. It’s a bleak picture, and yet there’s a lot of humour, and the love between the two main characters lightens much of the darkness. There’s a strong sense of compassion. We see the suffering in Sephy’s family – a mother who drinks, an absent father more interested in his political career than his family, and an unexplained rift between the two mothers, who had been on some sort of friendly footing until a few years before. Although the story is mostly told from the youngsters’ point of view, we do get to see the effect the social situation is having on the people around them.

The performance space was new to us. It’s basically a flat area with seats on three sides, and entrances in the corners. The two leads often came on and spoke directly to us without any props. When needed, furniture was brought on by the cast, chairs were held up until all were ready, and then slammed down together – very energetic and lively. Occasionally the people on stage would freeze, while Callum and Sephy would talk or move around them. It was a very direct style, and worked well, especially for the asides. With the audience on three sides, it was noticeable that the two leads were careful to include everyone, moving around as necessary, even when on the loo! (It’s in the small toilet cubicle which gets wheeled on to stage that Sephy gets beaten up.) When the characters turned on the TV for the news, the reporter would walk onto the stage, along with any interviewees, and speak directly to the viewers. Talk about having TV in your living room! I found this worked very well, as it emphasised the closeness there was between the characters in the action and what was being showing on TV.

The cast were excellent. The two leads – Richard Madden as Callum and Ony Uhiara as Sephy – gave superb performances, managing to grow up just the right amount over the two or three years of the action, maturing from gawky adolescents to young adults. The physical aspect of their love was also well done, developing from the first exploratory kiss, heads to one side, to full blown sex described only in words, but all the more powerful for that (for some things, less is more). Their first night together in Sephy’s bed was a lovely depiction of innocent love, and the way Sephy’s mother nearly caught him the next morning was very funny. Fortunately, Sephy’s ally Sarah, her mother’s secretary, helps out by pushing one of Callum’s shoes under the bed.

It’s difficult to single anyone else out, but I do want to mention Jo Martin as Sephy’s mother, Jasmine. She gave a wonderful sense of that character’s “hinterland”, her suffering as she gives in to try and make things work, the drinking to “smooth out the rough edges”, the support she gives secretly to help Callum’s father during his trial, and the unknown reason for all this – what happened those few years before that caused the rift between her and Callum’s mother?

Although I found it interesting to see this topsy-turvy view of racism, I didn’t really relate to either group. I found it hard to believe the noughts were really downtrodden – was that just my conditioning, or was I influenced by possibly unconscious body language from the actors? I can remember wanting to belong to a group when I was that age – we’d moved several times, and it always seemed hard to find like-minded friends of my own age – but I don’t ever remember wanting to create a “them” to support the “us”. Maybe I was lucky not to fall in with the “wrong” sort?

Looking back, probably the only criticism I can find is that the play does sometimes feel a bit like a checklist of discussion points to be covered. The action comes so thick and fast, especially in the second half (20 minutes longer than the first half), and the scenes are so short, that there’s not a lot of time for depth of character to develop. Actually, it’s surprising how much depth is achieved – another compliment to the actors and the adaptation.

Anyway, the play raised a lot of interesting questions, and more than usual I find myself wondering how I would handle some of these situations. The youngsters at the play tonight were obviously engaged as well, and I suspect there will be some interesting discussions as a result of this.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at

Pericles – January 2007

Experience: 3/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Dominic Cooke

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Thursday 4th January 2007

What a difference from our previous experience! These seats were central, but they were in the back row of the upper gallery, and our view of the action in the first half was severely limited. Fortunately, having seen it before, we could at least fill in some of the details for ourselves, and the modern pentathlon was still mostly visible. But had we been sitting here when we first came, we probably wouldn’t have rated this production, and might not have wanted to see it again. This layout seems to be creating serious problems for the audience, or not, depending on your position.

I still enjoyed the second half, however, as most of the action takes place in the middle. In fact, we probably had a better view of the scene where Marina and Pericles meet. I was certainly very moved by all that section, through to the rediscovery of Thaisa. Shame about the first half.

I thought one piece of action was new. When Lysimachus, the governor of Mitylene enters the bawdy house, he “chested” Boult a few times. Neither Steve nor I remember this from the first performance we saw. I was unsure whether some of Gower’s gestures had changed – perhaps we were just seeing them more clearly than before. Otherwise, it seemed much the same, and I found myself wondering whether the changing nature of the promenaders made it less likely the actors’ performances themselves would develop so much over the run.

With the talk from this afternoon still fresh in my mind, I was more aware of the introduction of Marina. I knew they were using the same actress to play both Antiochus’ daughter and Pericles’ daughter, echoing the abandonment and actual/potential incest, although again I felt the risk of incest between Marina and Pericles was non-existent in this production. I was watching when the actress came on to represent Marina, still a baby, and to do her crying for her, and I got a sense of the spirit of Antiochus’ daughter returning to haunt Pericles. Do right by this one to clear your debt to me, sort of thing. I wondered how those who didn’t know the play took this staging, and whether it confused them. I also found myself wondering how close the coast of Ephesus was to Tarsus, and whether Thaisa’s coffin could have realistically floated there in the time. Get a grip woman, it’s only a play, and a fantasy play at that!

© 2007 Sheila Evans at

The Winter’s Tale – January 2007


By: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Dominic Cooke

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Wednesday 3rd January 2007

I enjoyed this performance much more than the previous time. We were sitting across from our first seats, and a gallery higher, which gave us a very different perspective. Having just had our own New Year celebration, I felt more in tune with the opening scene, and I was able to get into the swing, helping with the countdown, etc. Although I missed some of the scene, as it was played out right underneath us, I did catch up on the parts that Time had been blocking before, so overall I was more engaged from the start. I suspect it was partly due to our familiarity with the layout, partly because we were in a better position (and a complementary position to our earlier experience), and some credit also has to go to Robert Smallwood, who gave us Winter Scholars a superb lecture on the play, which he considers his favourite, if not indeed Shakespeare’s best. Based on his lachrymose experiences, I must admit to having a touch of the Smallwoods tonight, several times.

I was only aware of one difference in the staging from last time. As far as I could tell, the music that played over the opening scene was here restricted to just one part of the scene, which helped enormously. I could be remembering it wrongly, of course – it’s amazing what even a few short weeks can do to my memory. Other than that, the staging was as before, but this time I was aware of much more, and could see a lot that I’d missed first time round.

I was well aware how angry I felt at Leontes when he arraigned his wife when she’d hardly recovered from giving birth – the bastard. I wanted to hiss and boo him, but there wasn’t really a good opportunity (not without getting myself evicted, anyway). I could also feel a desire to throw things down onto the actors innocently performing below – a strong temptation which I fortunately resisted (see eviction point above). The promenade layout meant there were far more restrictions on the view from the upper gallery than normal, but although my perch was a little precarious at times as I leaned this way and that to catch as much as I could of the performances, I still found myself caught up in the play as I hadn’t been before.

Autolycus was just the same, and still failed to impress me. He seemed quite dull and uninteresting, without much detail to the performance. Nudity is all very well (in his case, VERY well!), but it’s not enough for this part. After the talks today, I was more aware of whether certain lines had been cut – it appears both bits our speakers thought would be dropped or severely edited were included pretty fully – the sheep shearing computation, and the reporting of the reconciliation scene, which was done very well. At first we have a lone reporter putting some copy onto his tape recorder, then someone official-looking comes out with a microphone to report more details, then another chap, even more important, adds the final touches. I thought it worked very well, especially in the light of today’s press conferences and spin doctoring waffle.

I still found the “shelf” that doubles as Mamillius’ bedroom and Leontes’ study (or has he just installed himself in his dead son’s bedroom to appease his grief?) ludicrously small – Leontes must have a pocket kingdom if that’s how big the rooms in his palace are. I did spot what Mamillius is playing with at bedtime, though – he’s tossing up a cuddly black bear, just like the one that’s going to eat Antigonus! I saw more of that bear this time, too, as it came on opposite us, and I noticed how quickly the promenaders cleared out of its way when it chased the poor old man. Shame! If they’d ganged up on it, they might have saved him. (Not that I was planning on rushing down there to lend a hand.)

I was more aware of the various decorations hanging from the ceiling this time, both the New Year’s celebration streamers and the sheep shearing flags. With several Winter Scholars in the audience, that was a bit of a distraction too, as I checked out their reactions occasionally. Having said that, the time flew – I’ve no idea when it finished, and I only glanced at my watch once, which is unusual, even in a good production.

I liked the way Time used music to convey the passage of sixteen years – his radio played “Catch a Falling Star” before his speech, and afterwards it was “California Dreaming”. The sheep shearing celebrants were clearly hippies, and Autolycus more of a drug pusher, but that fitted with the set up, as did the rather spaced out chap who tried to join in the group dance without a partner.

A friend commented on the statue facing away from most of the audience, which is a fair point, and I still think this layout doesn’t really suit the Swan – perhaps a purpose-built auditorium with careful consideration given to sightlines might work OK, but not this mish-mash. However, it was still enjoyable, and I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I felt it had improved over the first viewing.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at

Pericles – December 2006

Experience: 8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Dominic Cooke

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Thursday 14th December 2006

This was a very entertaining evening. I may have found it better than The Winter’s Tale because I was more used to the changes in the Swan, which has, after all, been my favouritest theatre in the world, but then again, this production used the space quite differently, and we were sitting across from our previous seats, and had a much better view of all the action. In fact we only really missed the wedding between Pericles and Thaisa. All the rest was either clearly visible, or, even better, right in front of us, on the sloping ramp.

The costumes were a mix of African traditional with natural geometric patterns and earthy colours, and modern. Cerimon was initially dressed like a hippy earth mother, and the suitors for Thaisa wore fetching outfits, all matched, of blue tops and tight white shorts. (Is it just me, or is it warm in here?) The starving folk in Tarsus were suffering a fashion breakdown, as all (except the king and queen, of course) were swathed in grubby cotton sacking. Overall, it was a wonderful combination of colours and styles which worked effectively to accentuate Pericles’ travels, the diversity of cultures he visits, and the dangers he faces – the opening sequence has guards toting automatic rifles forcing the peripatetic audience members into place to hear Pericles face Antiochus’ challenge.

That Antiochus is a right bastard. Not only does he seduce his daughter into an incestuous relationship, but he’s so determined to keep her, he’s willing to chop off the head of any young man who dares to sue for her hand. In theory, of course, the guy just has to decipher the riddle to gain her, but there’s no way Antiochus is going to let anyone live who figures out what he’s been up to with his daughter. So either way, they’re for the chop. I did like the way the man standing behind Pericles on the dais started sharpening his knife as soon as Pericles accepted the challenge.

Pericles’ trip home and thence to Tarsus went very smoothly. I liked the way Cleon, King of Tarsus, is worried at first that his country is being invaded. We could hear the sound of helicopters overhead, suggestive of both rescue and invasion. Despite the relief effort, at least one starving citizen didn’t make it.

Then Pericles is off again, and, wrecked at sea, is cast up on the shores of Pentapolis. I enjoyed this bit, when the sailors/fishermen find him, and then rescue his armour. The chap who found it was clearly none too happy that Pericles claimed it back, and in the end this staging didn’t make use of the shield, but I suppose that scene is showing Pericles’ luck and/or air of authority. It’s also when he finds out about the availability of Thaisa, the King’s daughter, and decides to become one of her suitors.

The competition among Thaisa’s suitors was the best I’ve seen. At first, the scene is set for Thaisa’s birthday celebration, and the suitors are shown, in the box, bringing her gifts (not in the text, this bit). There’s a couple of bags, one large, one small, a cuddly toy, and a box. When the flashiest one comes along, he seems to have nothing to give her, but at the last minute produces a conspicuous set of car keys – just showing off, if you ask me! Then Pericles arrives, the final suitor, with nothing more than a single rose. At this point, Thaisa doesn’t really pay him much attention – he’s more of a puzzle than anything else.

Next comes the competition, and instead of sword play, we’re treated to a modern pentathlon – shooting, fencing (alright, we got a bit of sword play), swimming, riding, and running. One contestant was dropped after each round. For the first event they lined up on one of the walkways, and shot across to the other. One of the contestants managed to fell a stray bird, feathers floating down to make the point, and Pericles had to borrow (or grab) the gun from the chap standing next to him, as he obviously didn’t have one of his own. Bird shooter was eliminated, and the rest went down to the ground level for the fencing. By the way, Nigel Cooke, dressed like a cook from what I could see, was running a book on the outcome – I know the RSC needs money for the redevelopment, but really! Anyway, with five competitors left, the first four paired up, and when one was beaten, Pericles stepped in to fight the winner. Needless to say, he gets through to the final, and also wins that. Our hero is doing well. Then it’s off to the box for the swimming. A blue sheet is held up, and wiggled about a bit, while the remaining suitors swim two lengths of the box. Another one out, and we’re down to three. On the walkway leading to the ramp, the three eliminatees are sitting with drums, and the three still in it come along in riding hats, and with whips, and sort of mount them (it’s not as bad as it sounds). Then they have a race, with pauses for the jumps, and the sound of the drumming for the hooves. A finishing post is trundled into view towards the end, so we know who’s won. Another one bites the dust, and then it’s just Pericles and the flash git in the final sprint, up the ramp just in front of us. Despite his chubby appearance, and being against a lean, tall, muscular sort of chap, Pericles actually manages to win this one as well – hooray! I was so caught up in the story-telling, that frankly, I didn’t mind this a bit – it was just good fun.

Following the events, there was some sulking as Simonides made a speech congratulating them all, and some clenched teeth were visible through the smiles. But it’s all still to play for, as the competition wasn’t to determine Thaisa’s husband, it was just a bit of fun, a way to pass the time. However, at the banquet later, Thaisa’s obviously very taken with the victorious stranger. She has an interesting relationship with her father, Simonides. They both clearly love each other, in a healthy way this time, but they will keep pretending the opposite of what they feel – in Simonides case, it’s often to test how his daughter really feels, and given the nature of their relationship, that’s quite understandable. In her case, it’s not so clear, unless she’s just picked up on Daddy’s way of doing things. Or perhaps she’s a bit shy of declaring her interest in Pericles outright. Anyway, she pretends indifference, and is secretly (if you can call it a secret when the whole audience knows) delighted when her father tells her to take a cup of wine to the champion of the games. Pericles is pretty taken with her, too, and they have a nice little dance sequence, with interesting suggestions of the two of them trying to blend their different cultures.

Simonides is also pretty keen on this match, because early the next morning, he sees off the other suitors, spinning a yarn about how his daughter wants a gap year before she marries. Off they go, some sobbing with disappointment, and leave the field clear for Pericles. Simonides has had a letter from his daughter expressing her feelings for the man, and he confronts Pericles with it, pretending to be angry. Pericles is thrown into confusion. The last time he was presented with a piece of paper was in Antioch, and he only just escaped with his life. He responds that he hasn’t done anything to encourage Thaisa, and she arrives to be confronted by her pseudo-angry father and …. well, it all ends happily, as Simonides can’t keep up the pretence for long, and before you know it, the happy couple are man and wife.

The audience participation included invitations to the wedding feast, which I thought was a nice touch – go to a play, join in the wedding breakfast. Gower, the narrator, informs us of time passing, and of Pericles receiving news that he has to return to Tyre or risk losing his crown, so without more ado they head off to sea, Thaisa much pregnant. A storm comes up, and here the people at the table start to sway and throw themselves about as if on a storm-tossed ship – a nice segue. Thaisa is helped to the box, and behind a curtain she produces her baby daughter, and then breathes her last …. or does she? Pericles is distraught, and it isn’t helped by the superstitious sailors wanting to chuck Thaisa’s body overboard asap. Fortunately, they have a fully water-proofed coffin standing by (they were obviously boy scouts or whatever the ancient equivalent was – always prepared), and so off she floats, with a covering letter explaining the situation and asking for whoever finds the coffin to put her in a proper grave. Pericles then instructs the sailors to head for Tarsus, as it’s apparently nearer, and he plans to leave his daughter there for Cleon and his wife to bring her up. Given the circumstances of her birth, he names her Marina. Cleon and his wife are only too happy to help, having a daughter of a similar age themselves (regular viewers of Will’s work will be suspicious on hearing this news).

One point to mention on the staging. At the time Thaisa is in the box giving birth, the same actress who played Antiochus’ daughter is spotlit, standing on the ramp to our right, watching the proceedings. I wasn’t sure what this meant at first – was this Antiochus’ daughter haunting Pericles, or taking on the shape of his daughter, or what? Actually, it was a neat bit of doubling, which would have been even more effective if the risk of incest in the later scenes had been brought out. As it was, it made me pay attention, and introduced Marina to us before the break, as she’s all growed up afterwards.

The two scenes with Cerimon are run together here. Thaisa’s waking is well done, as she gives a huge start and cries out. Her last memory is of the childbirth, and she’s understandably confused as to how she got where she is. The one thing I feel needs more explanation in the text is why Thaisa assumes so quickly that she won’t see her husband again. But then we wouldn’t get that lovely last scene, of course, so never mind. Thaisa decides to be a nun at the temple of Diana, for she has landed in Ephesus.

Now we’re following Marina’s story more than Pericles. Growing up to be a beauty, with many talents and a wonderful personality, Queen Dionyza naturally takes a scunner to her overshadowing her own daughter – we knew there’d be problems! After bumping off Lychorida, Marina’s nurse, Dionyza suborns some chap, apparently her lover in this version, to do the same to Marina. Possibly fortunately, some pirates arrive at the exact moment to prevent this murder, and steal her away. The would-be murderer reckons he can get away with his failure, as Marina’s not likely to be seen again in those parts, but hangs around in case they throw her back and he has to do the job after all.

We, however, are off to Mitylene and the bawdy house. Pole dancers do their thing on the ramps, while sailors and others mill around the market place. The music is modern, the lights are flashing – all painting a picture of modern-day sleaze and corruption. No redeeming features to this den of iniquity.

Business appears to be bad. The box is where the bawd and her minions hang out – all 50s style, with a lovely air of seediness. They’re down to their last three whores, and they’re past their shag-by dates. Boult is sent off to the market to find fresh meat, and brings back Marina – a virgin. Hooray! She’ll make their fortunes. Or will she? We see two sailors leave the place, vowing never to enter such a house again – what can be going on? Then we see a man in a grubby raincoat, looking every inch the perv, and pretending to be blind, approaching the door. He’s obviously well known to the occupants, as the bawd informs us “Here comes the Lord Lysimachus, disguised”. Turns out he’s the governor of the place, and when he throws off his covering, they’re all suitably impressed at the way he fooled them all. Hanging the grubby coat on the back of the door, he enquires if there’s any fun to be had, or some such, and they offer him Marina, probably a last-ditch effort to get her to co-operate. He takes on the task with relish, and after a bit of small talk, the others leave the two of them together.

Marina’s clearly not happy with what she’s being asked to do, and as he undresses, taking off his tie and then his trousers, he asks her about her past, how she came to this line of work and so on. Her replies rebut his assumption that she’s a prostitute; as the bawd knows only too well, she’s yet to have intimate contact with anyone! She keeps turning his words against him – when he points out that she’s in a house of prostitutes, she asks if, knowing this, he would come here? She reminds him of his honour, that he is, to all outward appearance, an honourable man, and he ends up giving her money. And then more money. Then he dresses again, and heads off, throwing the grubby coat into the corner – the sign that he’s given up on paying for sex completely. The bawd is at her wits’ end when she finds out. Boult offers to give Marina  her induction course, so they leave him to it, but she manages to persuade him that they’ll be better off using her talents – singing, weaving, sewing and dancing – to earn money honestly. She gives him the money the governor gave her, and he agrees to help her as best he can.

Meanwhile, Cleon has found out that Marina is dead, and who killed her. He’s rather upset, but his wife persuades him to go along with her plan to say Marina died of natural causes, and to mourn her as if they cared. When Pericles finds out his daughter is dead, he’s so grief-stricken, he goes on a seriously long Mediterranean cruise, refusing to leave his cabin, to shave, etc. Eventually he arrives at Mitylene, where the governor comes aboard to enquire after his health (plus carry out customs checks, probably), and finds a man suffering from serious depression. Naturally he thinks immediately of the amazing girl he met at the bawdy house, who has since been wowing Mitylene society with her beauty and wisdom. Fortunately, she happens to be close by, and soon arrives to help the poor unshaven man on the ship. This is such a moving scene, and I found myself sniffling quite a bit during it. At first, Pericles doesn’t want to see or speak with Marina, and he rejects her physically when she tries to touch him. When he does look at her, he’s reminded of his own dear queen, and it’s here that many productions insert some physical attraction for her that echoes the earlier incestuous relationship between Antiochus and his daughter. But re-reading the lines confirms what this production has done – there is no actual reference to, not even a hint of, Pericles having lustful thoughts towards his daughter. Naturally, he’s overcome with emotion as she tells her story, and of course, she doesn’t know who he is at this point. I think that’s one of the difficult things with this scene – clearly establishing who knows what about whom. Anyway, there’s a touching reconciliation. Then the governor shoves his oar in, as he was only holding back from proposing to Marina because she wasn’t of a high enough status, but now he can ply his suit, and is accepted.

When Pericles takes some rest – it’s all been a bit much for him – he sees a vision of Diana, here doubled with Thaisa, who tells him to go and give thanks at her temple in Ephesus. There, Diana’s statue is led on by a group of nuns, among them Thaisa, and after Pericles’ speech of thanks, she recognises him and faints. It all comes out then, the family are reunited, lots of sniffles all round, and Gower finishes off by telling us how all the baddies get their just desserts, and all the goodies are rewarded. A happy ending.

I loved this production, and was totally happy that we’d booked to see it again at the Winter School. All the performances were good, and the whole production had a liveliness and joy of the storytelling that made it a delight to watch, and to listen to. Joseph Mydell was exceptionally good as Gower, as was Richard Moore as Simonides. But the whole ensemble were excellent, and I left with my spirits high, looking forward to another performance. We won’t often see such a good production as this.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

The Winter’s Tale – December 2006

Experience: 6/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Dominic Cooke

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Thursday 14th December 2006

This production sees the Swan boarded over to create a promenade space, with the seating being in the galleries only. It reminded me of the Roundhouse production, and given how much the RSC has taken on this year with the complete works, doing many productions themselves, it wouldn’t be surprising if they decided to reuse several good productions of the recent past. After all, Michael Boyd has resuscitated his Henrys (seeing those in February).

There was a long, curved walkway spiralling down from the right gallery level to the ground by what would normally be the main entrance to the auditorium. All metal. There was a walkway across the left front of the gallery, the side we were sitting on this time. At the back, the balconies had been extended forward, to create a reasonable sized room for some of the scenes – Mamillius’s bedroom and  Leontes’ study. It was a bit small, though, and the actors had to keep out of each other’s way so characters could get in and out of the door. I know Leontes shuts himself away, but this is ridiculous! Otherwise, various pieces of furniture, platforms, etc., were brought on as needed.

At the start, there was an actor sitting on the walkway just to my right. He was dressed as a gardener and appeared to be working with a tray of seedlings. I had no idea who he was (he turned out to be Time, who delivers the introduction to the second half), but he blocked my view quite badly at the start, so that I lost much of the emotional aspects of the early stages, especially Leontes inciting Camillo to kill Polixinus. I also found I lost a lot of the dialogue – not sure how much was down to the more open nature of the performance space, and how much down to delivery. The more experienced actors were fine, on the whole, but some of the younger ones weren’t so punchy, and didn’t always inflect their speeches so well. There was music at the start which continued over the dialogue, and I found that got in the way a bit.

Autolycus was as scantily clad as I’ve seen in the Swan, excepting Tales from Ovid, but didn’t impress me (as a production choice, I mean). The sheep-shearing celebration seemed a bit tame – although the promenaders helped in terms of numbers, they were just standing around, and made the whole thing seem a bit dull. It was also a bit off-putting when it came to the more intimate scenes, such as Camillo advising Florizel and Perdita to flee to Sicilia. I still got emotional at the reunion scene.

All in all I felt the production didn’t suit the Swan space, the rearrangements made it difficult to see what was going on, and to hear clearly, and although it was a lively production with a lot of good performances (Nigel Cooke and Anton Lesser particularly) it just didn’t sparkle for me.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at