23rd Oct, 2017

REVIEW-Venus & Adnois - RSC Swan Theatre, Stratford

Catherine Thompson 28th Jul, 2017 Updated: 28th Jul, 2017

Venus & Adonis

RSC Swan Theatre

A PUPPET show version of Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis! Weary memories of childhood shows are conjured up.

But director Gregory Doran’s deft puppet masque was far removed from youthful Punch & Judy encounters. His enchanting production is inspired by the Japanese theatre art of Banraku in which near life-sized rod puppets are operated by visible puppeteers, with a narrator sitting to the right of the stage, and a musician to the left.

The RSC associate director teamed up with London-based puppet theatre specialists The Little Angel to realise his interpretation of the bard’s epic erotic poem.

While most of the action takes place from a stage the size of a large table, table-top marionettes and shadow puppets occasionally appear within a backdrop – resembling a more classical puppet theatre – in order to set the scene.

And the use of space – with some puppets skipping, galloping or escaping lusty Goddesses through an unsuspecting audience – creates a welcome dynamic, with the story unfolding from every corner.

The poem, inspired by Shakespeare’s favourite classical poet Ovid, tells the story of Goddess of Love, Venus and her pursuit of Adonis who prefers to spend his days hunting rather than in the passionate embrace of lusting females.

At just an hour long, the performance captures the ambiguous relationship between love and lust through Shakespeare’s effortless trademark union of comedy, tragedy and sublimity.

It begins with a charming Shakespeare puppet penning his letter to his patron and suspected lover Henrey Wriothelsey, Earl of Southampton, to who he dedicates the work. Table-top puppets gallivant in a countryside backdrop as the playwright apologises in advance to his patron, should his work not satisfy the young earl’s tastes. .

A pint-sized Venus replaces the bard, in the sumptuous back drop in her seashell chariot, before landing – a more life-sized version – among mortals to seek a lover in the unsuspecting Adonis.

The puppets are manipulated with a grace and accuracy as though a natural extension of the operators’ own bodies, their movements telling the story with as much sincerity as Shakespeare’s words. From Venus caressing and pinning down her victim, to Adonis’ nervous jolts, the puppeteers capture perfectly the different natures and maturity of Venus and Adonis, as well as the exploration of love and lust.

Horse puppets, like regular sized ponies, neigh, clop and canter through the audience, as Adonis’ handsome stallion does what Venus cannot, and woos his female counterpart. The villainous boar first manifests as an ominous shadow puppet with raised hackles – and despite a hint of comedy werewolf – is a plausible embodiment of doom for Venus, while Death drops in for an Irish jig.

Narrator Suzanne Burden provides a natural link between the ebb and flow of the visual action and the verbal story.

And an accompanying soundtrack of grunts, sighs and kisses creates some of the show’s most comic moments.

Venus & Adonis runs until August 4. Visit www.rsc.org.uk for tickets and further details.

Catherine Thompson

THE RSC stages its first ‘Chilled Performance’ with Venus and Adonis on Tuesday (August 1), starting at 1.15pm.

The performance is ideal for anyone who feels more at ease knowing they can go in and out of the auditorium during the show.

The RSC was also among the first to programme ‘Relaxed Performances’ four years ago which are aimed at children and young people with autism, learning disabilities and sensory and communication disorders, or anyone who would benefit from a more relaxed environment.

Artistic director Mr Doran said: “We believe that theatre is for everyone and as a company are committed to engaging as many people as possible with our work. A Chilled Performance allows people the opportunity to go to a show they may not have previously had the opportunity to see, so we are delighted to be able to provide this new offer.”

This summer the RSC is also piloting a brand-new offer as part of its Touch Tours by offering visually impaired people the chance to learn more about RSC costumes and how they are designed and feel. Tactile costume designs are 3D figures which use fabric and materials from the show to bring to life the costumes of the characters. Oscar Wilde’s Salomé will be the first RSC show to pilot the scheme at its next Touch Tour on August 26 at 11.30am with the Audio Described production of Salomé on at 1.30pm at the Swan Theatre.

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