Thomas Otway’s 1682 play is one of the very few Restoration tragedies still staged. In Prasanna Puwanarajah’s production, currently running at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, it receives a “noir twist”, presenting the audience with a ‘Blade Runner meets Mad Max’ cyberpunk vision of a corrupt Venice.
James Cotterill’s set design, darkly dangerous and almost sewer-like at times, nicely evokes an anarchic dystopian world of political turmoil inhabited by morally ambiguous characters. The plot centres on the secret marriage of Belvidera, the daughter of a powerful senator, to noble Venetian Jaffeir. When they lose everything they own, Jaffeir’s plea for help is refused by Belvidera’s father. Cue a chaotic series of events fuelled by revenge, revolution, pride and betrayal in what has been described as one of the first ‘she-tragedies’ focused on the intense suffering of women.
Jodie McNee’s Belvidera and Natalie Dew’s courtesan Aquilina carry the production: whether we see these women as victims or survivors what emerges is their strength and consistency in a world of poisonous masculine pride and hypocrisy. Michael Grady Hall’s Jaffeir is a self-pitying figure, nicely capturing the torn but pathetically vacillating inconsistencies of a man in crisis. John Hodgkinson’s turn as the sadomasochistic senator Antonio is full of oily lasciviousness, sporting assless chaps in a disturbing sex scene.
A visually interesting production of a thematically rich and disturbing play which is rarely performed. Well worth checking out.
‘Venice Preserved’ is running at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon until 7th September 2019