The play concerns Jaffeir, a noble Venetian who has secretly married Belvidera, the daughter of a proud senator named Priuli, who has cut off her inheritance. Jaffeir is impoverished and is constantly rebuffed by Priuli. Jaffeir's friend Pierre, a foreign soldier, stokes Jaffeir's resentment and entices him into a plot against the Senate of Venice. Pierre's own reasons for plotting against the Senate revolve around a senator (a corrupt and foolish Antonio) paying for relations with Pierre's mistress, Aquilina. Despite Pierre's complaints, the Senate does nothing about it, explaining that Antonio has senatorial privilege. Pierre introduces Jaffeir to the conspirators, led by bloodthirsty Renault. To get their trust, he must put Belvidera in Renault's care as a hostage. In the night, Renault attempts to rape her, but she escapes to Jaffeir. Jaffeir then tells Belvidera about the plot against the Senate, and against her father. She devises a plan of her own. Jaffeir will reveal the conspiracy to the Senate and claim the lives of the conspirators as his reward. It is only after Belvidera informs him of the attempted rape that Jaffeir agrees to do this, but the Senate breaks its word and condemns all the conspirators to death. In remorse for betraying his friend and losing his honour (by betraying his oath to the conspirators), Jaffeir threatens to kill Belvidera, unless she can get a pardon for the conspirators. She does so, but the pardon arrives too late. Jaffeir visits Pierre at his execution. Pierre is crestfallen because he is sentenced to die a dishonourable death and not the death of a soldier. He forgives Jaffeir and whispers to him (unheard by the audience) to kill him honourably before he is executed. Jaffeir stabs his friend, Pierre, on the gallows, and as a form of atonement commits suicide. Belvidera then goes insane and dies.
Aquilina: Ayesha Antoine
Belvidera - Jessie Buckley
Antonio - Pip Donaghy
Pruli - Emilo Doorgasingh
Doge: James Hillier
Pierre: - Ferdinand Kingsley
Eliot - Dwane Wallcot
Original text: Thomas Ottaway
Director: Charlotte Westenra (does she have a sister called Lucy, perhaps?)
Producer: Harry Ross
Designer: Helen Scarlett Oneill
Costume: Francesca Reidy
Lighting: Tim Lutkin
Firstly, an apology to all my readers for my lack of posts recently. There have been some major changes going on at NTWEW Towers, including a change of address, which is always timeconsuming and stressful. And there have been some staffing issues as well and yadah yadah yadah.
So, it has to be admitted that I wasn't really feeling great; the very muggy weather was making me feel foul and I was nursing a bad chill. And I was therefore knackered, and not in the very best of moods. And Him Indoors applied his usual poultice to the situation which is "To solve any problem, buy theatre tickets". Apparently this was a promenade performance on the riverfront between Deptford and Greenwich, and as we are currently living in Blackheath (dharling) for a while, it was relatively nearby. But because I wasn't entirely sure of where it was happening, and Him Indoors had even less idea (bless him, when he says that something is on the right, it is always best to check whether he means the right that is on the right hand side, or the right that just happens to be on the left hand side), I decided to hit the internet and look up buses and directions and stupid, inconsequential stuff like that because I didn't fancy walking for miles getting lost in the rain when I wasn't feeling great. For some reason, the venue appeared to be a partially completed apartment block overlooking the Deptford Riverfront. Odd. Never fear, said Him Indoors, I will fire up the trusty GPS on the phone and we will be fine. Which we would have been had said trusty GPS not packed up completely less than 30 seconds after we had got off the bus. I stood there and folded my arms and pulled "that face" - the one that communicates "I am not very impressed". By this point there was a fight going on outside one of the local boozers (bit rough, Deptford, always has been) so it was time to move quickly. "Follow me", said Him Indoors, coming over all Bear Grylls. "But we are looking for a wharf", I said, "and the river is that way [pointing over my shoulder in the exact opposite of the direction that Him Indoors was walking off]". I pulled "that face" again. Him Indoors turned round, shook his phone, stuffed it in a pocket and set off in the direction of the river.
Off we set, intrepid explorers both, along a very dodgy looking street leading towards the river. From the doors and windows of nearby houses, modern-day equivalents of the Artful Dodger and Bill Sykes peered at us walking by. Aside from us, the street was deserted. And then after about 10 minutes the scenery changed suddenly and we were walking between tidy little houses with tubular red exterior trim in streets called "Spinnaker Street" and "Frigate Mews" and "HeaveYourBreakfastOverTheSide Close" and such like. The cracked and fissured tarmac changed to designer cobbles. We rounded a small green area with the fantastic name of "Twinkle Park", which smelled vaguely of piss making me wonder aloud whether someone had been having a tinkle in the Twinkle. Our destination - a half finished apartment block - hove (heaved?) into sight. A small car roared by, far too fast for the restricted space, drove through an enormous puddle and drenched me from head to foot. I was not happy, and gave chase, brandishing my umbrella. The driver (female), screamed abuse from her window and then wound it up and put the pedal to the metal because I was getting closer and wasn't at all happy - serves her right, stupid cow, but it must have been like being chased down by an angry bull elephant. We picked our way down a small alley paved with designer cobbles (terribly hard on the old ankle) where, Wonderland-like, a small carved table stood alone in the middle of the street. A rather over-enthusiastic girl in vaguely "all purpose peasant" costume bounded out of a door and sold us a sheet of paper from the shelf underneath the table. There was a gust of wind which funneled down the narrow street, picked up every sheet of paper and threw them across the pavement. All-purpose Peasant Girl spent the next couple of minutes chasing them. I picked up a large pebble and put them on top of the pile to weight them down. My expression said "See? Not difficult".
We found ourselves on a terraced walkway directly adjoining the river, more or less alone, with a view along the river to Greenwich in the middle distance. Authentic 17th century Venetian rain began to fall. Gradually, other people joined us, and then various cast members in costume. Him Indoors found himself chatting to an Old Pro Actor (completely in his element, then) and maundered on about how he was in the Profession himself and oh yes, I've seen this play before, it was the 1984 production starring Sir Bingley Bongley Boo and nobody could hear him and someone shouted out "Speak up luv, we can't hear a word" and oooooh, I do like your codpiece and yadah yadah yadah and I rolled my eyes and huddled into my coat and then wandered off to buy a programme - which was clever and inventive because it was in the form of a broadsheet newspaper, and which is so pretty that I am thinking about having it framed.
Anyway, the bits of paper that had blown off the table were A5 sheets printed with various bits of instructions about what to do during the performance and words to shout out during the audience participation bits and so on and, this being Renaissance Venice I decided to make it into a mask.
Unfortunately, I became so intent on creating my wonderful carnival mask from the paper that I paid scant attention when the first scene began, which was basically two men in period costume shouting at each other. It sounded very much like some of those first scenes in Shakespeare where nothing much happens except that people stride on and shout at each other to give the groundlings time to finish buying their oranges and fish heads and settle down and decide when to eat the former and at whom they are going to throw the latter. Big Mistake. Huge. For this play is, apparently, One In Which The First Scene Is Extremely Important; If You Don't Listen Carefully You Won't Have A Scooby About What Happens Afterwards. But, intent in my work of creativity, I blithely ignore the two shouting men, even though did register that the one with the beard and the big brown eyes was Bloody Sexy. A woman walked on and began to emote. I noticed that her dress was coming apart at the back and falling off her shoulders but carried on tearing and creasing the paper and making holes at each side so that I could put my glasses on top and thus keep it on without holding it. The man with the beard, I noticed, looked Bloody Sexy in his black leather jerkin. There - my carnival mask is finished. I put it on triumphantly and then realised that I hadn't got an effing clue what was going on. Never mind - its time to move on, to an interior courtyard with a small canal running along it, over which was thrown a scaffolding bridge disguised as the Rialto Bridge. Clever - and wonderfully, the acoustics here were so perfect that I could hear every word and there were a couple of minutes when I thought I might actually have picked up on the plot. Alas, it was not to be. And then we moved inside the incomplete apartment block and watched a couple of very long, dreary scenes and I gave up trying to follow the plot completely and just sat and watched and felt damp and cold and Not Very Well At All. And then there was an interval during which I asked Him Indoors to explain the plot and, not being very articulate about these things, bless him, I had to ask him to stop after a couple of minutes because I couldn't work out who "Him from that play that we saw about five years ago somewhere - you know, the one that had that woman in, whatshername" was and what his character was called and so I gave up.
And then it was time to move to a different bit of the unfinished apartment block, this time a bit overlooking the river and the lights of Canary Wharf and we all got a red hooded cape to wear and pretend to be Members of The Senate, which would have been interesting if we could have seen ourselves but because we were the audience we couldn't, although I'm sure the actors thought we looked great. And Jessie Buckley came on and emoted a lot and I got colder and colder and more miserable and still didn't understand the plot. And then we moved outside and watched the Sexy Man with the Beard and the Black Leather Jerkin get stabbed (shame about the disco boat going past on the river at this point - not calculated to add to the authentic 17th Century Venetian atmosphere) and then we moved again and watched Jessie Buckley go mad, although from where I was sitting I couldn't see that there were images being projected onto the plate glass frontage but anyway by this time I was frozen to the marrow and bored and not happy at all. And then despite everyone standing on an enormous terrace overlooking the river, the cast came on and had to take their bows in a very cramped space wedged up against the wall of the building and it was time to go home, pausing only to have a blazing row on the way to the bus stop.
Undoubtedly this is a clever production. The setting is extremely unusual and intelligently thought out, and very well used (would you think about putting on a play in an unfinished apartment block?). Undoubtedly there is some very fine acting going on - particularly from Jessie Buckley who is becoming a very fine actress indeed, from Ashley Zhangazha who has the most perfect diction, every syllable as clear and audible as a glass bell, and from Ferdinand Kingsley who, besides being a very good actor, is also One Horny Dude and Hairy With It. Undoubtedly the concept is intriguing and the execution of the production very clever. But. I was too cold and feeling too rotten to engage with it in any meaningful way. Venice Preserved isn't the world's best play, and if you are not a fan of Restoration Revenge Tragedy it won't really be your bag. The audience participation bits are embarrassing (this is England, for pete's sake) and the Commedia Dell'arte sections just plain irritating. The constant movement from one place to another effectively destroys any build up of tension - just as things are starting to get interesting, its time to move on, and when there are 150 or so people to move, this can take quite some time; by the time you are all resettled, the tension has deflated like a flan in a cupboard. Some of the costumes are lovely, some look as if they have been picked up out of the dressing up box. As a concept its very interesting, but in reality it doesn't really work.
What the critics thought: