The Theatre and Dance Department’s production of “Pericles: The Prince of Tyre,” a lesser-known Shakespeare play, earned a standing ovation from a UNH audience Saturday. A grab-bag of tragic and comic elements, “Pericles” features themes ranging from love, to betrayal, to shipwreck, to sexual abuse, to salvation.
The play follows Pericles as he sails around ancient Greece and Turkey, buffeted by storms and intrigue.
When asked to describe Pericles in a few words, the actor playing him, senior theatre major Liam Tanner, chose “youthful,” “scared,” “energetic,” and “battered.”
Although the casting happened in the fall semester, the cast and crew only had about five weeks to rehearse before “Pericles” opened last Wednesday, assistant director Isabelle Beagen, a senior theatre major, said.
“Going into this year, I wasn’t sure if I was going to audition because I’d never done a Shakespearean play before,” said junior theatre and music major Eleanor Langthorne, who played Pericles’ daughter, Marina.
But one of her professors, Deborah Kinghorn, also the director of Pericles, had other ideas, telling all of her students that she expected them to audition. After Langthorne got the part, she said that she had to figure out Shakespearean verse.
“A lot of it was, like, going through and figuring out what I was actually saying,” she said of her preparation for the play.
In addition to the expected Shakespearean language, the production also featured intense fight scenes that thrilled the audience and took a physical toll on the actors.
Beagen said that during rehearsals some actors suffered minor injuries from choreographed swords fight and hand-to-hand combat.
According to Beagen, the cast had a “heavily eventful past week in terms of injuries” such as sprained ankles and injured shoulders.
“But they’re a trouper in terms of cast,” Beagen added.
Injury reports duly filed, “Pericles” premiered Wednesday as planned. One of the injured, a supporting actor, switched to a less active role and performed with his arm in a sling.
In addition to the student actors, students were also heavily involved behind the scenes. According to the “Pericles” program, eight students and staff members contributed to the lie music. Approximately 36 students in stagecraft and costume construction classes also helped bring “Pericles” to the stage, the program said.
“Pericles” was one of Shakespeare’s last plays, and one of his stranger ones. Technically, it wasn’t even his play. In a time of less strict plagiarism laws, Shakespeare simply took the beginning of an unfinished play by and obscure author and wrote his own middle and ending.
The jump from Garrow, the first author, to Shakespeare poses some problems for actors. Tanner said, “There’s such a change in the text, how the text is written. It might not seem like it when you’re listening to it, but when you’re… going through the meter, the last three acts are vastly different compared to the first two, which is at a challenge.”
Despite the stylistic shift and the jumpy nature of the story, featuring improbably interruptions by storms, pirates, and gods, “Pericles” still appealed to a modern audience.
“In the end, Pericles, Prince of Tyre is a miracle play,” Kinghorn wrote in the program. “People offend the gods by acting sinfully, and the gods eventually punish them for their heinous deeds. Others endure horrendous sufferings but stay true to the gods through prayer and good deeds, and in the end are rewarded…. It is a simple story, one which may seem too simple for our present day sophistication; but in a world rife with chaos, many wish to believe that steadfastness and constancy will produce a miracle, and that the world will be righted again.”
“Pericles” is “definitely a play that heavily touches on magic in the sense of miracles and the hope of the unbelievable,” Beagen said. “As much as miracles, it’s about hope.”