Pericles is a strange play and perhaps Shakespeare's laziest text. Using time and plenty of maritime disasters to advance the play causes awkward staging problems, and because of this laziness, the play's authorship has been questioned over the years (the first two acts are attributed to George Wilkins). A disjointed tale, Pericles is about young Pericles, Prince of Tyre, who flees tyranny and sails off to new lands. After being wrecked on an island, he competes for and wins the hand of Thaisa, the governor's daughter. However on the return journey, Thaisa 'dies' during a storm at sea, leaving him with a newborn daughter, Marina, whom he leaves to be raised by the governor of Tarsus, Cleon and his wife Dionyza.
The production of Pericles at the Rose Theatre, Bankside starts weakly. Jonathan Leinmuller is at first an unconvincing Pericles, but becomes stronger in the middle before descending into madness toward the end. Leinmuller and director David Weinberg obviously want to emphasise the metamorphasis of Pericles, from young adventurer, to statesman to grief-stricken madman, but the play's large jumps in time mean we see no hints of transition. Leinmuller begins with sighs and overly long pauses at the start, but has a more subtle performance as the character's own story becomes more complicated.
With so much time passing in the play, the narrator John Gower (Philip Mansfield) has a key role, and while the play has a clear ancient Greece setting, Gower is firmly in the Elizabethean age. According to Weinberg, the production was to be as close to the original as possible. Gower is witty and funny, providing the comic relief to a somber text and engaging with the audience.
Pericles' daughter Marina only really comes in during the second half (which being in one time era, and generally having a better storyline, is believed to be the written by Shakespeare on his own). Rachael Cuncliffe has the role as the grown up Marina, who is schemed against by Dionyza and then kidnapped by pirates and forced to become a prostitute. She is excellent and plays a virginal and pure Marina to a corrupt band of pirates and Dionyza.
As a production, it is plausible and effective. The word 'minimalist' does not do justice to just how bare the staging is, with only some random hanging skulls and a table passing as a set, though in the tiny confines of the Rose, it doesn't matter so much. Music is used effectively, though the ancient Greek setting does not fit with all the Spanish guitars and piano music. Without anything in the way of sets, it is for designer Alessia Alba to give the ancient Greek setting its visuals. The costumes are better for the women than the man, who essentially are all given tunics and/or armour. The women have elegant dresses, gowns and broaches and look the essence of nobility.
The entire production only runs for one hour fifty minutes (there is no interval). The acting is on the whole good throughout, yet the text's limitations make it a difficult one to stage.