Pericles | Bell ShakespeareIt is easy to see why John Bell is one of Australia’s most acclaimed theatre personalities and how he has been instrumental in shaping Australia’s theatre landscape. His latest production Pericles is testament of the man’s ability and the scope of his vision. From the opening to the finale of this, one of Shakespeare’s more spiritual plays, you are taken on a journey from despair to hope with a flamboyance and flavour never associated with Shakespeare before.

The story of Pericles as interpreted by the Bell Shakespeare company is a superstition-laden tragedy in its purest form. This story is a tale of woe for hero Pericles (Marcus Graham) and an illusory journey into the trials and tribulations of a man at the mercy of fate and the whims of the Gods. But, this particular Shakespeare incarnation offers a spicy twist that makes this production another unique masterpiece. Director John Bell has taken the opportunity in his version of Pericles to expand the limits of theatre well beyond tradition. Bell appears to call upon his years of virtuosity in theatre and superior knowledge of the form to embrace a new dimension, which is as subtle as it is profound. By choosing to collaborate with percussion sensation TaikOz you get the sense from the outset that this production is going to be different, and it is.

At first, it is hard to conceptualise how this merger between East and West will take place on stage in a classical theatre setting. Part of the allure for me is new perspectives in theatre, not just rolling out the classics as is expected of tradition. So coming to see a classical theatre production knowing that a percussive ensemble such as TaikOz (which is in itself a fusion of traditional Japanese music with an Australian translation) will be an element in the performance, makes seeing this version of Pericles all the more exciting.

As the curtain lifts in the opening scene exposing an oriental inspired stage, along with the thunderous beat of the TaikOz drumming, you can’t help but make an association with the ancient Japanese ‘Noh’ and ‘Kyogen’ theatre traditions. Immediately it becomes obvious that this production has been well thought out and researched in depth. The obvious Asian fusion that Bell has constructed is accentuated by the elaborate costumes that are in total harmony with the stage design created by the talented Julie Lynch. The costumes possess a structural design that is obviously inspired by Eastern tradition, such as the kimono worn by Dionyza (Julie Goss). But there is also a reverence to the Greek mythology embedded in the Pericles script that is not replaced but infused with this new theme.

From scene to scene we follow poor Pericles as he escapes death at the hands of a murderous King, gets shipwrecked, falls in love with Princes Thaisa (Lexi Freiman), becomes a father and a widower simultaneously and keeps moving forward toward his ultimate emancipation. Music Director Ian Cleworth creates an aural emotional complexity to equal the sentiment being acted out. By utilizing the musical skill of TaikOz’s Kevin Man, who plays solo Japanese flute throughout the dialogue,
Cleworth is able to create a spectacular atmospheric effect. The interchange between the bamboo flute and the percussion group for the duration of the play creates the perfect soundtrack for this classical drama.  

Pericles’ story is presented and led by narrator Gower (John Gaden) who is essentially the glue that binds the frenetic scenes together and provides continuity via the role of an exceptional storyteller. From this vantage point the audience is directly engaged with the plight of Pericles and a deeper relationship to the play is established. Gaden goes on to morph into several other characters all of which he adopts with absolute sincerity and total authority. As for Pericles himself, it can only be said of Graham’s performance that his acting was as magnanimous as the character he portrayed. From a layman’s point of view, theatre does more for Graham than television ever did. Supporting these two great actors is a cast that seemed destined for this play. The cast consists of a host of youthful actors with a freshness that breathes new life into theatre whilst presenting a collective talent that gives Bell Shakespeare it’s reputation.

This play is another remarkable work for the Bell Shakespeare company.

Bell Shakespeare in association with Taikoz
By William Shakespeare

Directed by John Bell

Sydney Opera House, Drama Theatre
Dates 26 June – 1 August
Previews 26, 27 & 29 June
Times Monday 6.30pm, Tuesday – Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees Wednesday & Saturday 1.30pm
Tickets Monday – Saturday Evenings Full Price $60, Conc $50,
Groups $50; Matinees Full Price $55, Conc $48, Groups $48;
Optus Under 27 Tickets $30; All Preview Tickets $35
Bookings 02 9250 7777 or

The Arts Centre, Playhouse
Dates 6 – 22 August
Preview 6 August
Times Monday 6.30pm, Tuesday – Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees Saturday 1.30pm
Tickets Monday – Saturday Evenings Full Price $60, Conc $50,
Groups $50; Matinees Full Price $55, Conc $48, Groups $48;
Optus Under 27 Tickets $30; All Preview Tickets $35
Bookings 1300 136 166 or

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