Like watching Shakespeare in the grounds of an Oxbridge college

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The Independent Culture

It's one of London's best-kept secrets: summer Shakespeare at Lincoln's Inn. The under-sung series is the inspiration of Gregory Thompson, director of AandBC Theatre Company. Some years back, he persuaded the Masters and Bench of the Honourable Society of this Inn of Court to allow him to mount an annual production on their North Lawn. The tranquil setting, with its ancient oak trees and backdrop of venerable buildings, imparts the kind of charm associated with watching Shakespeare in the grounds of an Oxbridge college. Whatever else they may offer, you don't get that atmosphere at the Globe or in Regent's Park.

It's one of London's best-kept secrets: summer Shakespeare at Lincoln's Inn. The under-sung series is the inspiration of Gregory Thompson, director of AandBC Theatre Company. Some years back, he persuaded the Masters and Bench of the Honourable Society of this Inn of Court to allow him to mount an annual production on their North Lawn. The tranquil setting, with its ancient oak trees and backdrop of venerable buildings, imparts the kind of charm associated with watching Shakespeare in the grounds of an Oxbridge college. Whatever else they may offer, you don't get that atmosphere at the Globe or in Regent's Park.

Dispensing with conventional seating plans, productions here arrange the audience on a scattering of tin drums clustered, higgledy-piggledy, around an illuminated helium balloon that is like a giant light bulb, or central camp fire. Attempting not to cripple them, the actors move around in the thick of the spectators whom they sometimes co-opt as silent characters, or they leap up onto the miniature stages of taller drums, calling out to each other across the crowd.

Short of actually propositioning the punters, it's hard to see how a company could take a more directly involving approach. Their method works particularly well for this year's offering, Pericles. With its episodic romance structure of voyages, shipwrecks, deaths and rebirths and its narrative choruses, this late play might have been tailor made for the kind of collaborative, do-it-yourself storytelling at which this outfit excels. It also allows them to demonstrate a range that can negotiate with ease between salty humour (as in the fishermen and brothel scenes) and the hauntingly spiritual (as when Pericles, re-united with his daughter, hears the music of the spheres, here sung by the company).

Typical of the economy and playful inventiveness of the staging is the depiction of the hero's first shipwreck: portraying the hostile elements, the cast advance on Paul Lacoux's appealing Pericles and subject him to a rude de-bagging in our midst. The feats of doubling and trebling of roles required of the actors - in particular Morris Perry who lends the wonderful authority of his verse and prose speaking to three sizable parts - are thematically telling, too, in a play where each of the hero's subsequent ports of call are like weird, distorted echoes of his first shocking experience in Antioch.

For example, the excellent Sarah Baxter plays both Antiochus's incestuous child and Pericles' daughter Marina, who, in the great recognition scene with her long-lost father, is like the earlier character's antidote. That rapt scene of gradually dawning wonder - culminating in the hero's ecstatic cry: "O, come hither,/ Thou that beget'st him that did thee beget" - is staged a tad too busily here, but Ms Baxter superbly brings out Marina's instinctive pride and mettle when faced with the apparent stranger's suspicious questioning, and Lacoux touchingly shows you a man who can hardly let go of his doubts for fear of drowning in joy.

What the production gets across splendidly is the sense of the miraculous. And, battling on regardless of the repeated downpours on the first night, the company demonstrated that grace in adversity which is the play's lesson.

To 26 Aug, 0870 870 1023

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