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The Show Must Go Online is back! After presenting all the plays in the First Folio last year, there was a clamour among groundlings for Pericles to be added to complete the set and TSMGO have done it – in style.
Robert Myles, the founder of TSMGO, did a wonderful job of presenting and directing the First Folio, but for Pericles, he has handed over to one of TSMGO’s most frequent performers. Maryam Grace has played many roles for TSMGO, including the title role in an all-female/non-binary production of Macbeth and also appeared as part of the first pair of actors to share a screen when she and Robbie Capaldi played Guildenstern and Rosencrantz in Hamlet. (And it’s not often Guildenstern gets to go first in that combination. Linguistic accuracy has its uses.)
The structure of TSMGO has worked brilliantly, but a new director will naturally want to put their own stamp on a production. The technical side works so there was no need for Maryam to mess with that, but with rather more time on her hands than the single week which Rob had at his disposal (and seriously, what he can achieve in a week is remarkable), Maryam started thinking about access matters.
In addition to arranging for the performance to be subtitled, Maryam organised British Sign Language interpretation from the incredible Janet Guest, who got to know all the characters (and there are a lot), transcribed the whole play into BSL and then learned it off by heart and performed the whole thing with just a five-minute break in the middle. She performed every character impressively and I would like to add my voice to those of the groundlings who want to ‘keep her forever’.
The play began with an illuminating introduction from Wendy Lennon, who explains a lot about the plot and the difficulties in classifying the play. The classification of many of the plays rather dubious, but Pericles does seem particularly ill-suited to both the comedy and tragedy labels! I’d say it’s somewhere between a fairy tale and a particularly horrific YA thriller.
It’s also a really great play. It’s an episodic epic with a vast range of places and people from different classes and professions and spans a number of years. There is deep tragedy. There are moments of comedy. There is magic and there is an appearance from a goddess. What more do you need? (What more is there?)
I think it was someone in the post-show discussion who said Shakespeare had turned Pericles into a sort of mash-up of several of his plays and they definitely have a point. If you know the plays, there are things that might stand out to you. If you don’t know the plays, I think you’ll like it anyway. Mostly.
It’s not just Shakespeare who looks back to previous productions. Maryam has included frozen images of three memorable characters from past TSMGO productions: Micah Weese’s Slender (The Merry Wives of Windsor), Robbie Capaldi’s Aragon (The Merchant of Venice) and Fiona Tong’s Malvolio (Twelfth Night). They’re a great addition to the scene, as well as a nice nod to just three of the brilliant past productions.
The list of memorable characters has certainly grown after this production. Pericles goes through the wringer in this play and Gabriel Akamo shows this in his magnificent performance. He starts off as a confident and charismatic young man, able to cope with anything, but as the years pass with one trauma after another, we notice alterations to Pericles’ voice, appearance and demeanour as he changes in response to what happens to him.
Murphy Hickey gives Gower, the narrator, a very individual interpretation which works brilliantly. She acts the words with passion and balletic gestures which give her an emotional connection to the story, even though she isn’t part of it. Sasha Wilson is the perfect Thaisa, self-sufficient and calmly in control but also warm and genuine.
The other actors are all in multiple roles. This was a surprise – while many of the characters have very small roles, characters like Helicanus, Dionyza and Cleon appear frequently, while Marina has a very big role to play in the final two acts. Maryam decided to give these roles to members of the ensemble, who also took on other roles in parts of the play. It worked really well, firstly because we got to see the versatility of these actors and secondly because it meant there was a smaller cast and it gave the play a real community feel to see the same actors popping up in different roles.
Marina comes out of nowhere and basically becomes the star of the last couple of acts and Maya Cohen more than rises to the occasion. Her Marina is lovely, intelligent, and inspiring; vulnerable but powerful. It’s a very moving performance and stunningly acted.
Lynsey Beauchamp does brilliantly as Dionyza, who changes a lot during the course of the play. Lynsey changes her physical appearance to reflect the different stages in Dionyza’s life, but she is clearly still Dionyza. It seems (at least to me, a non-actor) a considerable feat to change the character so much yet remain fundamentally still the same character, especially when you’re a member of the ensemble and playing other roles too. Steve Connor’s multi-layered Cleon, Leo Atkin’s horribly creepy Antiochus, Guido Garcia Lueches’ disreputable but charming Bolt and Rachel Chung’s very likeable Helicanus are just a few of the other great ensemble performances.
TSMGO is back – and great news is there are more shows to come.