Most academics call Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis a ‘narrative poem’. But the production at the Rose Theatre demonstrates that, with proper direction and staging, Shakespeare's 'narrative poem' can, in fact, make for an enticing play.
Director David Pearce intelligently portrays the relationship between the two gods, first put to paper by the Roman poet Ovid. The theme of two young lovers exploring each other is played up to the max, with its famed imagery and over-the-top descriptions of sex.
Sarah Mackenzie gets the envied part of the goddess of love in the modern era and initially starts out one dimensional. Her attempts to seduce Chris Paddon’s Adonis come across as desperate and more akin to a Bronte or Austen character (or maybe a Sex and the City type) as opposed to a reasoned divine being; however, she finds herself as the play goes on. (It is true the text follows this suit, but this transition could have been more subtle.) Mackenzie is so much better as the activist Venus as she tries and tries (and succeeds) to court Adonis in a brilliantly comic way. Paddon's Adonis is a reluctant lover, and he is the more complex and varied character in the poem, and Paddon thrives in managing all the strands of the character's life. He is focused and at home hunting, and whilst you feel Venus is at home courting, Paddon is wary and realistic in the way the relationship develops.
The setting is modern, which perhaps makes it more accessible, though some imagination would have been a better distraction for the audience. Pearce decorates the stage in the most over-the-top Valentine's Day way possible, with heart balloons and a huge bouquet dominating the back of the stage. Much of the poem is written as dialogue with significant chunks coming from Trevor Murphy’s on-stage narration. He is the stand out performer, and it is clear he understands the difficulties in timing and delivering poetic verse more than the actors, used to delivering clear and concise scripts. Paddon peaks and troughs in the unenviable, difficult task of delivering over a thousand lines of poetry in a convincing way. Indeed, one can state he is playing Shakespeare himself.
In regards to the ‘doing it’, it comes across as hilariously awkward. The entire reading is performed like one long date, with awkward silences, random kissing and quite ‘adult behaviour’ (as worded by the programme). The performance is clever and brave, and even more special in this unique venue, but struggles at points. Music and lighting are both underused, and the pace changes too much, making it hard to keep up. But this is indeed a rare chance to see such a performance, and you will certainly be in for a memorable one. At £12 a ticket, it may seem a bit expensive for a fifty-minute production, yet the important archaeological research the Rose is doing means it goes a lot further than just covering these productions.