Under the weather: Notoriously difficult, Pericles has claimed another victim. Paul Taylor reviews Phyllida Lloyd's new production for the National Theatre

Many of the most critical moments in Shakespeare's Pericles take place on board ship. There's a difference, though, between having a powerful marine element, such as this play has, and being positively all at sea, like Phyllida Lloyd's new Olivier production. Lavish, restlessly eclectic and stubbornly unaffecting, it pursues the hero on his episodic wanderings, equipped with every technological resource save a compass.

True, the play is a decidedly tricky customer, given its textual uncertainty and the thematic elusiveness that may be a function of that. Whether intentionally or otherwise, it tantalises the spectator with the sense of some deep mythic pattern underlying the vicissitudes of the vagabond hero which it refuses fully to pull to the surface. When Pericles works, though, as I have seen it do twice - in David Thacker's 1989 RSC production and in John Retallack's Oxford Stage Company version last summer - it offers an experience for which the exact, unexaggerated word is 'wondrous'.

Lloyd's account, by contrast, merely sets you wondering. Unlike those successful stagings, where the effects were always at the surface of a profoundly felt emotional journey, this production is so cluttered with devices and gimmicks - weird cross-gender casting, inexpressive doubling, a plethora of spectacularly silly costumes - that genuine feeling can hardly get a look-in. The moments that grip you most, it's dispiriting to report, come courtesy of technology. In the exciting storm sequences, an inner revolve of the Olivier stage rears up on a tilt to become Pericles' tempest-tossed ship, the Prince (Douglas Hodge) and his mariners struggling to keep their balance against the blast or else thrown flat on to the whirling disc of a deck.

When trying to convey internal turbulence, the production makes a poorer showing. You can scarcely blame Henry Goodman - whose Gower makes a bizarre entrance here in a jack-in- the-box-like spring out of a grand piano - for seeming, as the story's narrator, more wired-up and agitated than many of the participants. If he had to front this farrago, Desmond Lynam himself would have the jitters.

What the production fails to give is any sense of connectedness between the episodes. In the play's first adventure, the young Pericles (whose wetness behind the ears is nicely communicated here by the wacky, nave angle at which Douglas Hodge wears his crown) is roughly propelled into sober, self-mistrustful adulthood by the depravity he witnesses at Antioch. To win the king's daughter, he must answer a riddle or die. What the riddling encodes is that the princess is locked in an incestuous relationship with her father. Arched over backwards in a lewd posture of sexual availability and merely lip-synching to the king's annunciation of the riddle, Anna Pons Carrera's princess leaves its answer in no doubt.

A production needs to communicate how each of Pericles' subsequent ports of call throw up strange, distorted images of this initial encounter with evil, and the threat of incest hovers in an obscure, dreamlike way over the action, only to be transcended in the wonderful recognition scene between Pericles and Marina, the daughter he believed dead. There, significantly, the hero's rapturous cry of 'O, come hither, / Thou that beget'st him that did thee beget' recalls the riddle at Antioch 'He's father, son, and husband mild; / I mother, wife - and yet his child' and triumphantly voids it of depravity.

John Retallack's production, through some pointed doubling, caught this spooky, non-rational connectedness beautifully. The doubling and tripling of parts at the National rarely serves an interpretative function. Kathryn Hunter portrays the King of Antioch, whose evil is hard to take seriously here, because he's presented first as a tiny Rasputin-head at the top of a vast scarlet monument of a body, equipped with wagging, stick arms and then, when he's in private, as a shrivelled dwarf. Hunter goes on to play not Simonides, the king who has to sweep away Pericles' Antioch-shaped suspicions before becoming his father-in-law, but a bewhiskered Cerimon - the lord who revives Thaisa - and the Bawd in the brothel to which the pirates haul his daughter, Marina.

Hunter is a wonderful performer, but to be frank, it's only in the last of the three roles that she scores a direct hit, her eye-patched Bawd like some venereally decrepit version of Barbara Windsor, the bottle-blondness pitted with disgusting sores. When this louche harridan first claps eyes on the highly eligible Marina (Susan Lynch), you can hear the cash registers ringing in Hunter's progession by stages from an 'Oh' of appraising, taken-by-surprise pleasure to a 'Ho-ho' of determined delight at the prospect of exploiting her. In the other two parts, the incongruity between performer and character are just a distraction. You want to get involved; instead you get a quasi-impressive stunt.

Douglas Hodge is at his most convincing in the middle of the play, when launching clarion- voiced rebukes to the gods from the deck of his ship and tenderly nursing his unmothered baby. He and Lynch, whose Ulster tones valuably bring out Marina's mettle, are such good actors that you can only marvel at the flatness here of the famous recognition scene and the mess it makes of its superb sense of rhythm, playing off the rise and rise of a shattering joy against the need to be patient and to establish the facts first.

It didn't help my mood that I was accompanied by someone who was seeing Shakespeare and the National for the first time: on paper, it looks a dream introduction to both; in practice, it is rather the reverse.

(Photograph omitted)

In rep. Bookings: 071-928 2252

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker