Venus and Adonis review at Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon – ‘an opulent puppet show’
This revival of Gregory Doran 2004 production for the Little Angel Theatre sees Shakespeare’s erotic narrative poem, Venus and Adonis, brought to life with puppets.
The staging is gently inflected by Japanese bunraku theatre, with the puppets populating a gilded miniature theatre, whilst a narrator and guitarist sit either side to tell the story.
The concept is an inspired one, for a puppet, wooden and unpromising on its own, is given hot-blooded, sensuous life when animated – with their enhanced expressiveness, they’re almost inherently erotic.
Venus, flirtatious and full-bosomed, lounges, pounces and floats with great physical articulacy, and her failed attempts to seduce Adonis are full of appropriately raunchy visual gags. Adonis, a simple guy who thinks about little but hunting, is (fittingly) rather stiff compared to Venus. At the end of the play, Adonis, mauled by a boar and abandoned by his puppeteers, is left empty and dead.
Though the puppets are always watchable, the novelty wears off quickly and the production suffers a little from becoming static and repetitive. The second half brings some lovely moments – a very fine extended solo on classical guitar and a coup de theatre in which the set, designed by Rob Jones, transforms in an instant into the encroaching claws of Death.
But for the most part the show is oddly measured and well-behaved. The desire latent in the text is allowed to surface for comic effect but never truly embraced – it’s a production of prurient curiosity rather than deeply felt passion.
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