This series of reviews will look at ‘Globe to Globe’ productions, an extraordinary effort by London’s Globe Theatre to stage every Shakespeare play in a foreign language.
The next two months will see a truly global take on Shakespeare as the Globe Theatre in London hosts a range of theatre companies from around the world in what they call the ‘Globe to Globe Series’, part of the World Shakespeare Festival. The series is an excellent way of showing how Shakespeare’s stories have a global impact, and each play will be done in a different language.
An early company in the series is the National Theatre of Greece, who perform a big, fat version of Pericles, a rarely done production about a long suffering Prince with an uncanny ability to keep getting caught up in shipwrecks. The company plays up to Greece’s current financial crisis throughout, and the characters interact with the audience in a way only the Globe allows. After collapsing after another shipwreck the title character stands up and says, ‘I’m Greek, I’m starving’. The joke is not lost on anybody, though one imagines the Greek ambassador to London who was in the audience may have not been amused. The staging is done very well, always alluding to Greece’s current situation, with characters ironically doubling up with deliberately bad costumes and hiding behind pillars. One of the stranger artistic decisions is to have the entire cast on stage for the entire time, which is done to show the absurdity and emphasise the amateurishness of the play. This is highlighted when Christos Louils, who plays Pericles as a bumbling man stumbling from disaster to disaster, is threatened with a ‘gun’, which is his assailant’s hand.
It is ironic that a festival that is about experiencing other cultures is essentially encouraging companies to play up to stereotypes in order to break the linguistic barrier, but the National Theatre of Greece at least does it with class and humour, so all is forgiven.
In performance terms, the challenge is (and this will be a theme throughout the series) how to communicate the plot to English speakers, whilst performing in their native language. The Globe has surtitles to let the audience know what is generally happening, but the surtitles update too slowly to be truly useful, and how they would be used in faster-paced plays such as Midsummer Night’s Dream or As You Like it remains to be seen.
The play relies heavily on music and physicality to make it entertaining for the non-Greek audience and to keep them engaged; however, the effect is both entertaining and frustrating as it prevents the text's dark themes of loss, endurance and revenge from coming out, as the company opts for an overly energetic and farcical performance. Perhaps the style is an allegory of Greeks putting a brave and cheery face on a bad situation, but the concept is not wholly successful. The emotion does come through in parts at the end as Pericles is reunited with his wife and daughter, and the change of tone is effective. However I wish they did this at other points, such as when Pericles believes he has lost his wife in the first place. I like the concept of a high tempo and amusing production of Pericles, which is ultimately entertaining, but it does not feel true to the text, which has a tragic strain throughout.