BrumHour was invited to see Venice Preserved by The RSC.
By David Fox
Venice Preserved at The RSC
Written by Thomas Otway, directed by Prasanna Puwanarajah.
Venice Preserved presented by The Royal Shakespeare Company, until 7th September 2019.
Venice is sinking. Under the shadow of darkness, an impoverished nobleman and senator’s daughter marry in secret, and are disinherited by her oppressive father.
Discontented and vulnerable, Jaffeir is enlisted by his dear friend Pierre – a decorated and famous Venetian soldier – to join an international revolution against the leaders of their failed city state. But when a soldier from within the revolution threatens his wife Belvidera, they go on the run, and make a decision that tears their lives apart.The RSC website
The RSC presents the second play in their Restoration theatre season (plays originally staged following the restoration of the English Monarchy in 17th Century). To counterpoint the comedy of The Provoked Wife, Venice Preserved is a tragedy dealing with themes such as revenge, power and corruption – brought well into the 21st century in this production through a nightmarish dystopia.
Venice Preserved is clearly influenced by films such as Blade Runner and The Matrix; a striking aspect of this production was the excellent set and use of lighting: darkness contrasted with bright neon. I loved how the rear of the stage was deliberately kept dark so characters appeared from the darkness and shadows as if from nowhere. Synthesized electronic 80s pop added to the overall 80s sci-fi vibe, while costumes reminded me of the cyberpunk books such as Neuromancer by William Gibson.
In making the play relevant to a modern audience there was a clever use of the famous V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes masks (as used by Anonymous) as a visual shorthand for a subversive group primed to bring down the corrupt Venetian government. Director Puwanarajah says he is a huge anime and DC comics fan and wanted his to make this play 17th Century Venice meets Sin City. This certainly comes across in the overall design and at times I was reminded of a corrupt, modern Gotham City.
As you can expect with the RSC the play boasts a fantastically strong ensemble cast. Following his RSC debut in The Provoked Wife, Les Dennis, takes a more centre stage here as Senator Priuli, a great performance as a man losing control of his daughter as the conspiracy begins. There were excellent performances from Michael Grady-Hall, vulnerable and desperate as conspirator Jaffier, and Jodie McNee brought authenticity to the betrayed wife Belvedera, for a time turning her into a survivor rather than a victim of Venice’s corrupt and controlling patriarchy.
Amongst the drama there was some much needed comic relief from John Hodgkinson as Senator Antonio – relishing a performance to bring the deliciously vile politician to life. Totally amoral, perverse, and corrupt, there were great laughs to be had at Antonio’s expense as he stripped down to a rubber suit, begged to be kicked and spat on by his mistress for his sexual pleasure. It is sad that, thanks to many stories in the media we are now more accepting that this is how we often see our political elite (it brought to mind a number of current politicians!) I find it interesting how we continue to mock political classes in this way, and how little has changed in 400 or so years!
Venice Preserved, is an interesting, thought–provoking, and at times shocking play. It has to be noted that this production contains adult content including violence and scenes of a sexual nature. I had to look away a couple of times when the violence became Tarantino-esque!
Venice Preserved is playing at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon until 7th September 2019. For more information or to book tickets online visit: rsc.org.uk/venice-preserved
This isn’t a sponsored post.
When not writing for #BrumHour, David Fox spends his time wondering when Checkov is back on the midlands stage or is that Chekov?