Fans of Shakespearean style plays will love Venice Preserv’d, an extremely powerful English restoration play written by Thomas Otway in 1680s, first staged in 1682. Theatre goers are asked to meet up, not at the venue, but almost a kilometre away at the prow of the Cutty Sark at 6:30pm (optional). From the meeting point members of the cast and theatre goers travel together along the river towards the venue in a carnival procession with music and jesters keeping us amused along the way. For those who don’t like the idea of the procession, its not a necessity, and you can go direct to the theatre; at the venue, Paynes & Borthwick Wharf, the production gets under-way at 7:30pm.
Most reviews have been highly appreciative of this production, with a couple of reviewers complaining about the procession. I would recommend ignoring these people as it was always optional to attend the procession. On the night I attended, everyone enjoyed the hour long procession, and it only made us feel more like we were a part of Venice society, if that’s possible.
Our lead male, Jaffier, played by Ashley Zhangazha, portrays a soldier who through his trusted friend finds himself immersed in a world of rough characters who seek to overthrow the Venetian State. He finds himself pulled between his loyalty to his friend, his concious and the love of his life, his wife, Belvidera, played by Jessie Buckley.
As Jaffier is drawn into a world of subterfuge by his friend Pierre, played by Ferdinand Kingsley, we find other characters who are also intertwined in the story make their presence known as the plot unfolds. Belvidera attempts, but fails, to sway Jaffier away from his new low-life, cut-throat friends, which later leads to tragedy.
A scene between a prostitute, Aquilina, played by Ayesha Antoine, and her client, senator Antonio, played by Pip Donaghy, proves to be hilarious, as the senator ends up being whipped, barking on all fours.
All the main players give superb performances, as do the rest of the supporting actors. Regular theatre goers will recognise many of the faces of the supporting cast in this superb production.
The venue is divided into four area’s and the audience is taken from area to area as new scenes are presented to us. The first stage area is outside on a decking area overlooking the Thames. We’re then taken to the rear of Paynes & Borthwick Wharf where a Venetian bridge has been constructed for the scene. The third and fourth areas are inside the building with seating, backdrops and staging. I think it was a wonderful idea to have the audience moving around, and was a great modern take on an old play which was thoroughly enjoyed. I simply could not understand some critics’ negative view on this idea and how they failed to understand that the audience was actually immersed and a part of the Venetian citizens observing the story unfold.
The period costumes were amazing throughout, and certainly looked detailed. Late into the evening, the audience was cloaked in red hooded cloaks as the powers that be decided the fate of our male protagonist. Of course we had been already been invited to wear costumes before the show, and quite a number of the audience had already turned up in costume, although it was not obligatory, or would you have felt out of place without a costume.
Fantastic, immersive production which is not to be missed.