Theatre review: The Pearl
Edinburgh Fringe Scotsman review: The Pearl, at Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33), review by Sue Wilson
Adapted from John Steinbeck’s eponymous cautionary novella – itself based on a Mexican folk tale – this charming ensemble production from the Warwick-based Dumbshow company extends the warmest of theatrical welcomes, to adults and older children alike.
The welcome is literal as we arrive and take our seats, with the five-strong cast already onstage – costumed as fishermen and shore-dwellers, on a set bedecked with beachcombers’ finds – greeting us warmly in West Country accents before leading into Sam Gayton’s deftly rhymed script.
The tale is an archetypal one, of the danger inherent in riches, as a poor pearl-fisher, Kino (Michael Bryher), one day finds the biggest such jewel ever seen, but rather than transforming his family’s fortunes for the better, it only awakens the uglier side of human nature – his own as well as others’ – resulting ultimately in tragedy.
Despite all five players switching between at least two parts each, strongly defined characterisation gives a real emotional heart to the show, especially in the relationships between Kino, his wife Joanna (Hester Bond) and their baby son, represented by a strung-together collection of fishing floats.
Such low-tech ingenuity, in both visual and dramatic effects, is The Pearl’s other central asset, allied with skilfully wrought mime and movement elements and Ed Elbourne’s excellent lighting design, as a sheet and a stick become a boat; buckets and a towel become jellyfish and a stringray. These scenes are suffused with a lovely wide-eyed wonderment from the cast that it’s impossible not to share, interwoven with plenty of playful humour.
While this version replaces the original’s Mexican setting with a medley of accents, including Irish and Yorkshire, perhaps to underline the parable’s universality, Steinbeck’s critique of capitalism and class is still discernible, although foregrounded in less detail than the programme notes would suggest.
The piece would also benefit from a modicum of trimming, as its momentum sags a little towards the end, but overall it is an imaginative joy to behold.
MORE INFO: The Pearl, at Pleasance Courtyard until 26 August. Today 12:30pm
Originally published in The Scotsman