Friday, May 9, 2014

Venice Preserv'd

Venice Preserv'd © Johan Perrson
Venice Preserv'd has got some terrible reviews from The Guardian and the Evening Standard and Time Out among others. The criticism is mostly to do with the rather time-wasting 'promenading' from the Cutty Sark to the play's location at Paynes & Borthwick wharf, and the failure to co-opt the audience into helping create a carnival atmosphere. Whilst some may be happy to get into the swing of things, others may find all the clutter surrounding this production a little too distracting.

We attended 'the carnival' last week on a bleak looking Friday evening. At the end of the day we found ourselves enthusiastically applauding the tremendously talented multi-racial cast and some fabulous indoor stage settings.

Surely it is worth shouting about TWO brilliant black actors in the lead roles (Ayesha Antione and Ashley Zhangazha), supported by a brilliant cast and every reviewer notes Jessie Buckley. On the sidelines, Dwane Walcott is surely worth a shout. Great design (Helen Scarlett O'Neill) and production support these actors, and all involved should be proud.

These are the people that make Venice Preserv'd worth seeing.


If you're local you might want to miss the early start in Greenwich, which seems designed purely to lure West End theatre goers down to the far-flung site on Watergate Street via a boat trip to Greenwich. Considering the poor transport links at P&B Wharf, it might also be seen as a vehicle for illustrating the nearness of Greenwich to new luxury home buyers.

As the Standard says, the blurb "conjures an image of flamboyant spectacle" but "the reality is less thrilling" with "a few actors capering around in masks" in a "good-natured yet not exactly atmospheric preamble that's far removed from the gorgeous excess of Venice's famous carnival".

But the walk from Greenwich is not helped by the company leading the audience along a filthy and polluted Creek Road (see our previous post) for much longer than they need to rather than use the river walk through the Millenium Quay estate. (Perhaps the riverside residents who own the road refused them access. There could be a bridge there but they've probably stopped that too).

Both reviews also question whether the entire show might be an elaborate advertising ruse to sell luxury apartments. "It's a bit like being stuck inside a property advertisement", says the Standard. "An hour has passed before the show even gets underway, and then every time the drama threatens to gain any momentum everything stops as we are moved to another location. It begins to resemble an extended property viewing rather than a piece of theatre", says The Guardian.

It was a chilly evening and threatening to rain when we went last week, which made the walk from Greenwich utterly dismal, and the lingering on the brand new terrace at Paynes & Borthwick less enjoyable than it might have been had it been warm and sunny.

The week before we'd been to see our local actor friend in Othello (in the smallest theatre in the world at Leicester Square – the only staging of Shakespeare during the week of the great bard's birthday). That excellent little production helped us get over the culture-shock of period costume and text and prepared us for the similarly passionate and blood thirsty story of love and friendship in Otway's 1682 tragedy.

But we had to wait ages for it to start. When it finally got going, the audience was moved through four different locations within the P&B development as the action unfolded – two indoors and two outdoors. In one of the indoor locations, we sat rather uncomfortably with a restricted view of the action on the floor. Luckily many of the scenes took place on a raised stage with three very clever set changes.

Venice Preserv'd © Johan Perrson

The backdrop to the play is one of revolution, the citizens of Venice uprising against a corrupt government, but the government wins and the revolutionaries are doomed – a rather depressing outcome, considering our present times and the location of this production. As this reviewer notes, "What we are left with at the end of the a restoration revival draped across a symbol of London's insurmountable wealth gap".

If you're going, get the cheaper tickets, wait for warmer weather, perhaps skip the promenade from Greenwich, make sure you're not allergic to Shakespearean-style plays, and you may find yourself 'immersed' quite agreeably...

Plus you'll get a preview of what will hopefully (though don't count on it) become an attractive and freely accessible terraced Deptford waterfront.

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