Venue: The Upstage Theater
With their production of Pericles, under the direction of Sophie Paterson and assistant director Buffy Watling, The Upstage Theatre have managed to breath some energy back into one of the less popular Shakespeare plays. The atmosphere was well established, the performances convincing and the move between comedic and shocking scenes was subtle; it also didn’t hurt at all that they were serving wine before, during and after the performance, something I wouldn’t mind seeing more of in general. It should probably be said, however, that several glasses of wine and no intermission aren’t the best combination, as was proved both by the length of queue for the toilets after the performance, as well as one particularly stressed looking man’s sudden exit about ten minutes before the end.
The atmosphere in the theatre was well established both before, during and after the performance: the theatre, itself a relatively generic black theatre space, had a wooden bar at the back, as well as tables and chairs scattered around a central performing area. These choices, while they didn’t transform what the space looked like, helped to integrate the audience into the cast and make the conceit of a pub performance organic. In general having the cast members perform first as pub goers and then as the roles of Pericles itself served the cast very well, they could comment on the action of the play, elucidate references which are more difficult for a modern audience and make up for what the venue slightly lacked in detail by sitting around drinking in character with the audience before and after the play itself. Moreover, moving in and out of roles added some nice detail to the roles of the performers, Emily Thane’s Marina, for instance, was hesitant to even start performing (something which helped her to feel younger than Claire Morley, who portrayed her mother, despite the two looking of a similar age physically).
Credit should probably be given to musical director John Robin Morgan for the sung interludes which sat between many of the scenes. They supplemented (and likely helped to create) the atmosphere brilliantly. The powerful voice and stamping of Rory Oliver was of particular merit to this, as were the harmonies of Carrie Morrison, which evoked communal in pub performance and made transitions more fluid.
The acting was consistently good and energetic, at times supported by well delivered humour from both the in and out of character pub goers. They comment, for instance, on the unfortunate and confusing double casting of two characters to one actor; the moment is brief enough for it to avoid distracting from the play itself or becoming genuinely misleading, but just long enough to score a laugh from the audience. At other times the performances took an unexpected and shocking severity which was much more visceral than live, relatively low budget, performances can usually achieve.
Above all the production was an unusually fresh telling of one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays (without having to resort to the kind of over tried ‘modern’ adaptation that has become so prevalent) . The performances were consistent, both when they needed to be light and when they needed to be heavy, the atmosphere was well established and for £2 a glass the wine was actually pretty decent. Its definitely worth catching if you get the opportunity.