Marcus Graham stars in Shakespeare's tale of incest, shipwreck and redemption
Marcus Graham is sitting in the rehearsal room trying to explain what his character has been through by Act Four. "Pericles has suffered quite a bit. Like, the first woman that he loves is sleeping with her father, so he can't be with that woman, and he has to go on the run then because he's hunted by this evil king, and he finds another woman that he loves and he loses her in the birth of his child, and leaves his child in the care of someone else because he must go on and fight wars, and then this child is stolen and put into a brothel and he's told she's dead. Can you imagine going through that?"
That's what he has to do, and that's what he wants his audience at the Sydney Opera House to do. "It's very easy to laugh it off, and say 'if it were an episode of Neighbours, well how ridiculous' but what if it was a Shakespearean play, and we went 'OK, let's invest in this and let's be open to it and go with it,' then I think that's an enormous thing to go through."
Pericles has one of Shakespeare's most elaborate and melodramatic plots, and most scholars doubt that the play was entirely his. "It's very creepy," Graham says. "It's Greek tragedy on acid. Without the moral guilt."
But there's a happy ending in Act Five. In a mirror reflection of Cordelia's death in King Lear, Pericles discovers his daughter Marina as an adult. Director John Bell wonders whether there's something autobiographical there. "All those final plays, The Winter's Tale, The Tempest, have a 16-year-old daughter who redeems her father," Bell says. "Pericles is also very like a reverse Lear in the storm scene, except that he's accepting." Graham agrees: "In the storms Pericles is going 'I'm just a man, I must yield to you, give me a break' whereas Lear is going 'I'm bigger than you fuckers, I'm the king!'"
Bell judges that Sydney audiences could use some consolation this winter. "It's a very optimistic play, very life-affirming; it's got a sort of mythical legendary quality about it, a kind of magic realism. With everything a bit bleak right now I think it could be a real uplift."
Certainly nobody will be slumping asleep in their seats when the Japanese drums of TaikOz are beating on stage. And with costumes in the style of Ancient Greece and Persia, "it's very spectacular, and easily accessible to almost any age," Bell says. "The circular story is very satisfying: you lose things and then things are given back to you. If you put up with the bad times, the good times will come again. It's about patience and forbearance, not giving into despair. The incest is turned on its head, and at the end it's a very pure version of the same kind of relationship." Graham agrees: "It's a glorious thing to lose someone and then get them back."
Graham recently played the Bouncer in Jerry Springer The Opera. "It was the most extraordinary experience, and one that I'll never forget," he says. In October he will appears with Sacha Horler in Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage at the Sydney Theatre Company. But for the next two months he'll be taking the fantastic journey of Pericles in Sydney and Melbourne, losing and regaining a daughter almost nightly.