Venice Preserved - Royal Shakespeare Company - Review

Prasanna Puwanarajah production of Thomas Otway's rarely performed political thriller Venice Preserved is gripping and has themes that make it hard to believe the play was written nearly 350 years ago.

The Company. Photo by Helen Maybanks. Copyright RSC

Puwanarajah's production feels like it could the latest Netflix thriller. The director plays to all the modern political parallels in Otway's work superbly to make the play resonate with a modern audience. His production described in the programme as "restoration noir" has been influenced by retro-futuristic cyberpunk films and cartoon' from his childhood in the 1980s. The themes and the design make it a feel like your watching something akin to the likes of any of the modern dramas on any of the streaming services.

The play takes us to the darkness of Venice where we meet Jaffeir, a noble Venetian, who has secretly married Belvidera, the daughter of a Senator, Priuli who disinherits them after discovering their secret. Jaffeir is enlisted by his friend Pierre, a decorated Venetian soldier, into a revolution against the leaders of the cities failed state. When Belvidera, who has offered has been offered as collateral to prove Jaffeir's loyalty to the cause is threatened by one of the revolutionaries the pair are forced to go on the run which leaves them facing a decision that will tear their lives apart.

Jodie McNee is tremendous as Belvidera and together with Michael Grady-Hall's Jaffeir, they hold the emotional heart of the piece and they really elevate the whole production. The emotion both actors gave to their characters was so powerful to watch. Stephen Fewell is also terrific as Pierre, he's so believable and watchable in the role that it's not hard to see why Jaffeir is so loyal to him.

Top: John Hodgkinson (Antonio) and Michael Grady-Hall (Jaffeir)
Bottom: Jodie McNee (Belvidera) and Stephen Fewell (Pierre)
All photos by Helen Maybanks. Copyright RSC
John Hodgkinson, as S and M loving senator, Antonio, shines and in the comic moments of the production, he is in his element. He appears so comfortable on the stage even breaking the fourth wall as he ad-libbed with a member of the audience in the front row. Understudy Rosalind Steele, giving only her second performance in the role, covered Aquilina brilliantly.

James Cotterill's blacked out design matched with Nina Dunn's video and laser design and Jack Knowles lighting all add together to create a great atmosphere that makes the whole production all the more engaging and captivating especially in the intimate setting of the Swan.

With a running time of 2 hours 20 minutes (plus 20-minute interval), the play does feel a little long especially in the second act where it loses some of the pace from the first but overall the vision of with Puwanarajah's vision and direction carriers this gripping and powerful new production through. It's definitely worth a trip to the Swan Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon to catch it this summer.


Venice Preserved runs at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon until 7th September 2019 - for more details and to book tickets click here.

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