Venus and Adonis

“Venus and Adonis” – A Masque for Puppets after William Shakespeare’s poem, presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company

With music by John Blow, John Dowland, Thomas Morley, Enriquez de Valderrabano, Robert de Visee, Adrien le Roy, Gaspar Sanz and Steve Russell

Gregory Doran – Director
Steve Tiplady & Lyndie Wright – Directors of puppetry
Robert Jones – Designer
Harriet Walter or John Hopkins – Narrator
Puppeteers – Nele De Craecker, Roger Lade, Rachel Leonard, Lynn Robertson Bruce & Sarah Wright

Nicholas Lee or Simon Davies (guitar)

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 31 March, 2007
Venue: Little Angel Theatre, Islington, London N1

First presented in 2004, “Venus and Adonis” is revived now for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s “The Complete Works” season in which the company is presenting the entire Shakespeare canon, mostly at Stratford-upon-Avon.

Shakespeare wrote his long poem “Venus and Adonis” for his teenage patron Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, to whom it is dedicated. It was in its day an immensely popular piece and was even the inspiration for John Blow’s own masque, written for King Charles II in 1683. The music used in this production is taken from assorted works by John Blow, John Dowland, Thomas Morley, Enriquez de Valderrabano, Robert de Visee, Adrien le Roy, Gaspar Sanz and Steve Russell. It is played on guitar as a background accompaniment to the drama enacted on the stage.

Robert Jones’s gorgeous golden proscenium frames the action of the puppets and the manipulators use marionettes, rod puppets and shadow figures, all about half human size, as well as large, handheld figures such as horses, a hare and a wild boar which often require up to three people to manipulate them. The whole production is inspired by Greg Doran’s visit to the Bunraku Puppet Theatre in Osaka, Japan where performances comprise puppetry, recitation and music. This gave him the idea of fusing the ancient Japanese art with Shakespeare’s poem. In the event it works extremely well with the puppets assuming real human characteristics in this tale of Venus the Goddess of Love coming down in her chariot, espying a beautiful young man and immediately setting out to seduce Adonis. He’s a little diffident at first, preferring to go hunting, although when Venus knocks him off his mount, his horse gallops off with a friendly mare. When Adonis goes off to hunt the wild boar, Venus fears the worst, for Death (a huge skull with long tentacular arms) has claimed her man. Where Adonis fell a flower grows, which Venus plucks and then flies away again, cursing the power of Love.

The puppets are surprisingly sexy dolls and Venus is certainly well-stacked in the bosom department and has no compunction about groping poor Adonis, flinging him to the ground and smothering him with kisses. All this is achieved with great skill by the puppeteers who, after a while, you forget are there, as you concentrate on the main characters, the animals and the recitation of the poem. It lasts about an hour, is not a children’s show but is recommended for over-14s and the whole thing is such a wondrous experience you will go away remembering how, in a time when animation is all computer-generated, real magic can be created live by a few people manipulating a handful of dolls. Don’t miss!

  • Runs until 28 April: 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday; matinees on Wednesdays & Saturdays at 5 p.m.
  • Box office: 020 7226 1787
  • Little Angel Theatre

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