By Lucy Siebert, Cue reporter

Luke Dixon's Pericles is Shakespeare for the global village. This version of the 400-year-old romance features a multi-cultural cast, South African gestures, and some Xhosa, and came together only thanks to transcontinental air travel. It is the first time the play has been performed in southern Africa and marks UK-based Theatre Nomad's fourth appearance at the National Arts Festival.

Despite being one of Shakespeare's least known works, Dixon says, Pericles is a beautiful and moving play, which has been unfairly overlooked by directors. Dixon chose to produce Pericles specifically for the Sixth Triennial Congress of the Shakespeare Society of Southern Africa, held in Grahamstown from 25 to 28 June.

As the play has been ignored for so long. Dixon strove to ensure the production is highly accessible to South African audiences. Half the cast is South African, and audiences will recognise cheeky thumbs-up signals, local handshakes and smatterings of Xhosa translation.

Although he is British, Dixon has spent a large amount of time in the Eastern Cape over the last five years, which accounts for his special areas of interest: multilingual and multi-cultural performance. He says he would like to include more Xhosa in the play, but the production was bound by a tight schedule. There was time for only a month of weekly rehearsals in England with the European cast members, and a week-and-a-half of intensive rehearsals in Port Elizabeth.

Pericles is played by Paul Huntley-Thomas from England. He says acting with a multi-cultural cast, which includes Andrea Molnar from Hungary as Marina and Monde Wani from South Africa as Gower, was a fantastic learning curve. Huntley-Thomas stresses that as an English speaker, he had a head start on the rest of the cast. “It is more difficult for the other actors, who are second language English speakers. Some English speakers even think Shakespeare is a foreign language,” he jokingly adds. The mixture of English, South African and Hungarian actors has brought a fresh feel to the production. Dixon says each member of the cast has brought a different style and approach to the play, resulting in a new take on Shakespeare’s great romance. Molnar, for instance, originally trained as a dancer and is making her dramatic debut in Pericles. Dixon says she brings extra style, elegance and grace to the story.

Despite being a moving romance, the play’s themes remain relevant to contemporary audiences. “I love the physical and emotional journey that Pericles goes on. He has such a sense of wonder and amazement and even though he suffers so much, he still comes out intact,” Huntley-Thomas says. The current political landscape makes Pericles an important play to revisit. Dixon says the complex issues of political exiles and refugees need to be urgently addressed in both Africa and Europe, and Pericles, as a displaced character, speaks to these contemporary concerns.

This thought-provoking production is set to tour Europe later this year. Remember, there are only two Shakespearian productions on at the festival, which makes Pericles a must-see for followers of the great bard.


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