Bard on the Beach presents a new adaptation of the strange epic Pericles

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Pericles might be the strangest play in Shakespeare’s canon with its themes of incest and dead characters coming back to life. It also isn’t always easy to understand on your first pass. Rather than reduce that barrier, I found this adaptation by director Lois Anderson somewhat hindered an easy understanding of the plot. Using dolls to represent characters being described in narration and moving between present and flashback in real life and magical worlds, this show was not easy to follow.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre (Kamyar Pazandeh), sails to Antioch to marry a princess, but discovers that the princess and her father have an incestuous relationship. Knowing this puts him in mortal danger, so he must flee by returning to the sea where he encounters great difficulty. He does eventually fall in love and marry, but his wife dies in childbirth while they are at sea (so he thinks), and he throws her overboard. This is one of the scenes I found hard to buy as he nonchalantly tosses his beloved into the waves. In another version I saw recently, this was somehow done in a more credible way and in less haste. The daughter, Marina (Luisa Jojic) survives but is eventually captured and sold to a brothel. Things get weirder yet.  

The eastern Mediterranean setting for this epic was well constructed with an abundant stage and beautiful costumes, but the production failed to really pull me into the story. I was too distracted by the theatrics and a giant sheet that served as many things including a ship, a horse, and rolling waves. The ancient setting, characters we can’t see but are told about, and difficult sequence of events make it hard to relate to this story.

There were a few moments of humour that helped to lighten the story, but felt a bit out of place such as a comedic dance number. It’s a bit deceptive to describe this as a play for fans of shows like Game of Thrones or Star Wars; I didn’t see the great similarity.

The play does have a happy ending, making it hard to categorize as a tragedy or comedy as it contains elements of both. The play is an oddity in many respects as it is said to be penned partly by another playwright named George Wilkins. That could explain a lot. When Pericles and Marina find one another at last, they share a heartfelt reunion that is one of the most important scenes—this was performed beautifully and the father daughter love was palpable.  

If you’re a fan of strange or fantastical stories, perhaps this will be for you, but I wasn’t able to get on board with this adaptation.  

Tickets and more information: Bard on the Beach

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