Monday, 6 May 2013

Venus and Adonis {on a crutch] - Isango Ensemble@ Shakespeare's Globe, Friday 3rd May 2013


Venus, Goddess of Love, is playing with her son Cupid and is pricked by one of his arrows. Under its influence, she sees the beautiful mortal Adonis and is consumed with passion for him. She ambushes him while he is on his way to the hung and attempts to seduce him. She conjures a mare to captivate his horse and it follows the mare into the forest, leaving Adonis trapped with no means of leaving. All day long she tries to persuade him to make love to her, offering him freely all the delights of her divine body but he remains impervious.
As evening falls, he agrees to kiss her farewell hoping that this will satisfy her so that he can escape to his friends and prepare for the next day’s hunt. Driven to new heights of arousal by the kiss and frantic at the thought that he may be killed the following day, she once again attempts to force herself on him, but is again unsuccessful and he escapes.
The following day she hears the sound of the hunt and searches for Adonis. She follows the sounds of the horns and finds a boar at bay, tusks dripping with blood. She is confronted by Death, whom she berates. Hearing the horns, she apologises to Death for her mistake but at that moment sees Adonis with his side ripped open. As she watches, his body melts away and a white flower, speckled with the red of his blood, grows where he lay. She is distraught and fortells that all love will now be tainted with jealously; it will be fickle and false, making fools of both men and women. It will be the cause of war and from that day forth those that love the most shall enjoy it the least. She fades away into the forest.

Venus (in order of appearance):
Pauline Malefane
Busisiwe Ngejane
Noluthando Boqwana
Nobulumko Mngxekeza
Zokeka Mpotsha
Zanele Mbatha
Bongiwe Mapassa

Adonis: Mhlekazi Mosiea
Boar: Luvo Rasmeni
Death: Zebulon Mmusi
Cupid: Zamile Gantana

Creative Team:
Words: Will Shakespeare
Director: Mark Dornford-May
Conductor: Mandisi Dyantyis
Choreography: Lungelo Ngamlana
Costume: Gail Behr

Ah, spring. When a young man’s fancy turns to planting stuff on the allotment. Unfortunately, this young man managed to fall over and snap a ligament that day so it was with a crutch and a right foot looking like a black grapefruit that I managed to crawl to the Globe Theatre and review this through a red mist of pain. The things I put myself through for you lot. Having sounded off before about how bloody miserable the Globe Stewards can be, I have to (in the main) retract that statement and thank them for – more or less – putting themselves through hoops to help me get around, particularly a lovely lady called Francesca who took me up to my seat via the goods lift, allowing me a privileged look at the general backstage clutter and several cast members in their scanties. Wasn’t quite so keen on the woman afterwards who, when called upon to provide assistance in getting a taxi back to the station, said merely that there was a taxi rank at Southwark Tube Station (further away than London Bridge station itself and a long, painful hobble on one leg and a crutch). When this fact was pointed out, all we got was a telephone number scribbled on a post-it note and shoved in our general direction. So, Globe, still lots of PR training needed front of house please.

A while back, and with a different hat on, I waxed extremely lyrical of the Isango Ensemble's production of The Magic Flute at the Young Vic. In fact, it probably still stands as the most I have ever enjoyed an opera performance (there are many contenders for the least enjoyed, with a four-hour production of Ariodante in Barcelona probably taking the gong). So that’s why I staggered up to central London on public transport to see this company have a bash at an obscure Shakespeare poem and in the main, I wasn’t disappointed. It was performed with the same amount of obvious joy and conviction, even if the plot (if it can really be called such) doesn’t lend itself to quite the same level of creativity and sustained humour. Even though its presented in a mixture of languages (English, IsiZulu, IsiXhosa, SeSotho, Setswana and Afrikaans), there are laughs aplenty and nobody misses many of the subtleties of the dialogue because this production simply shows that you don’t need to know a language if the essentials of the plot are spelled out clearly enough for you through mime, facial expression, body language and the occasional bit of slapstick. Add the elemental, pounding rhythms of African music and amazing tribal choreography and you’re onto a winner. A pity that the audience was relatively thin and that this production was only showing for four performances but Bwana, I was close to throwing away my stick and getting on down with the best of them. Judging by the audience reaction, I wasn’t alone. There is something primeval about that music, those rhythms, something that transcends race, time and culture, something that just reaches inside and evokes a response from feelings and memories deep and dark and long suppressed.

The most interesting concept was to have the female lead played by seven women in rotation (and sometimes in combination or even all at once) in order to demonstrate that a goddess can show whichever face she pleases and can be mother, wife, lover or whore when attempting to capture her man, depending on the occasion (and the man). A simple length of white cloth, wound round the body in a variety of ways, starts off echoing the classical drapery that Venus traditionally wears but becomes skirt, scarf, brassiere, cloak, blindfold, rope, blanket and, eventually, shroud. There’s no need for scenery – you supply that, so you can set the story where you please, either in a sylvan glade or thornbushes and sand dunes. There is physical comedy aplenty – a seductive roll of a pair of ample hips, the batting of a pair of large brown eyes, the shooing away of an unwanted spectator. The masterstroke is having Cupid played by an enormously fat man in a skin-tight white T shirt with the word “Cupid” emblazoned across the paunch – it makes everyone laugh and gets the audience completely on your side by reassuring them that this isn’t going to be highbrow.

The paper-thin plot doesn’t really allow for much development, and the wordy bits seem to drag a little compared with the dancing and the physical action, but make no mistake, on a warm spring evening it was a pleasure to be there and feel the beat – even though some of this was the throbbing in my foot. I enjoyed it even through the pain.

What the critics thought:

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These are my opinions. I am entitled to them. As you are to yours. If you are going to respond to my opinions, at least make your responses worthwile. Vitriol is pointless. And more importantly, won't get published - so you'll be shouting in the dark.