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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Pericles
Olivier Theatre   August 26-28, 2018

For three performances only, the National Theatre gave its largest stage and full resources to Public Acts, a company of professional artists dedicated to involving the community in their productions. 

Along with the Queen's Theatre in Hornchurch and a dozen other arts and community outreach organisations, they combine a small core of professional actors with over 200 amateurs in a fully-staged, spectacular and thoroughly entertaining adaptation of one of Shakespeare's least-done plays. 

Adaptor Chris Bush has simplified Shakespeare's sprawling and episodic text into a clear and fast-moving tale of a vain and callow prince who undergoes a string of adventures and personal tragedies that mellow and mature him on the way to a happy ending. 

(Bush also makes the story somewhat more family-friendly as a subplot involving an incestuous neighbour king is cut and the brothel in which Pericles' long-lost daughter must preserve her virginity become a glitzy-but-still-tawdry Vegas-style showroom.) 

A small core of professionals is surrounded by a stageful of volunteers drawn from community groups all around London, skilfully and cleverly drilled by director Emily Lim and choreographer Robby Graham so that no individual has anything too elaborate to attempt but they all fit together in beautiful stage pictures and moving dramatic moments. 

Composer Jim Fortune provides an eclectic score whose inventive catalogue of different modes, from 1950s-style pop through Afro-Caribbean beats to country fiddling recalls Lloyd-Webber's mix of musical modes in Joseph/Dreamcoat. 

And the spectacularly colourful production – many of the National's own shows have been on barer stages – along with the magpie incorporation of Guest Stars including two street dance companies, several soloists, a Bulgarian folk choir and a gospel one, a ska band, American-style cheerleaders, an Indian drum troupe and a children's kazoo band, evoke the sense of a Christmas Panto gone inspiredly multicultural. 

Among the leads, Ashley Zhangazha convincingly and sympathetically takes Pericles from callow youth through bashful lover to older-and-wiser ruler, while Naana Agyei-Ampadu as the wife he wins and loses and Audrey Brisson as the daughter he loses and regains both create full characterisations and sing beautifully. 

And as the drag compere of the brothel-turned-showroom, Kevin Harvey takes a flashy opportunity to stop the show with an over-the-top performance, and rightfully stops the show. 

Pericles is not just 'surprisingly good for community theatre' – it is good on so many levels that it absolutely justifies the full resources of the National Theatre. 

You can enjoy the spectacular production, the thoroughly entertaining songs and dances, the polished contributions of the professional performers and guest stars, the obvious and infectious joy in performance of the non-professionals, the open pleasure of their friends and families seated around you, and the excitement of being part of this shared experience.

If you read this review in time to see one of the remaining performances, run. If you missed it, regret it.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Pericles - National Theatre 2018