Simply put, an enchanting production. In an intimate space, beautifully made puppets depict Shakespeare’s great erotic poem Venus and Adonis, as Harriet Walker recites the verse.
Gregory Doran was inspired to create this work - in conjunction with the Little Angel Theatre - after witnessing a Bunraku production in Japan and noticing most of the audience were adult. His experiment has clearly succeeded, as the adult audience at Venus and Adonis sit absorbed thoughout.
Walker narrates with appealing pace and vitality, conveying the humour, sensuality and pathos of the poem without missing a beat. Without doubt, however, the scene-stealers of the evening are the puppets, precisely and fluidly manipulated by the dextrous puppeteers. Despite still, sculpted faces, the marionettes of Venus and Adonis convey a range of emotions from lust, anger, love, disregard and grief with their detailed motions. It is a telling lesson as to how much humans reveal through movement.
A pleasantly surprising aspect of the production is its humour. Venus’ often heavy-handed attempts at seduction are highly entertaining, as are Adonis’ perpetual attempts to extricate himself and flee. The mighty stallion and wild boar are impressively realised. There is both an innocence and knowing humour in the production that makes it highly engaging to watch.
The entire piece is accompanied by Simon Davies’ melodious guitar playing, while Adam Crosthwaite’s lighting ensures focus is drawn to the puppets and creates an otherworldly atmosphere. Robert Jones’s set, a delightful miniature theatre with Death’s skull and skeletal arms presiding above all, must also be credited for its invention and visual appeal.