Based on John Steinbeck’s novella of the same name, The Pearl tells the story of the poor pearl diver Kino and what happens when he discovers ‘the pearl of the world’. Kino hopes to use the potential wealth of the pearl to improve the life of his young family. However, the hope of the pearl soon becomes a curse. Envied by those within their village Kino and his family are ostracized. The pearl buyers try to cheat him and life soon turns sour through greed and envy. What the young family had hoped would be their salvation instead becomes their damnation.
Dumbshow have managed to find the beauty and levity in a tale that contains much darkness. Whilst remaining true to the original text they have made a few minor adjustments. The inclusion of Scottish nuns as Kino’s aunts is inspired and adds a much-needed layer of coming relief. Despite the serious moments, the adaptation manages to avoid becoming bogged down in tragedy by finding hope as well.
The elegant framing device does much to convey the tone of the production. The audience is welcomed into the theatre by the sailors who help narrate the tale. From their positions of authority they help convey the themes within the work while maintaining the pace. The balance between story and narrative as well as humour and sincerity was wonderfully done. However, though the joviality of the narrating sailors was appreciated for the majority of the show it, very occasionally, felt slightly forced and over the top.
The set built out of flotsam is lovely, conveying both the character of the piece and providing deceptively sophisticated scene changes. The staging was simple but highly effective, particularly during moments involving the sea. The movement of sailing and swimming, conveyed using little more than the actors physicality, was lovely.
Hester Bond as Kino’s wife Joanna was particularly noteworthy. Her cradling of the flotsam baby was very evocative and the pain she experiences as mother is heart wrenching.
This is a wonderful production that evokes great emotion using quite simple effects. They manage to portray the beauty in the love story of Kino and Joanna and the ease with which the flaws of human nature can poison happiness.