Venus and Adonis, dir. Gregory Doran, Little Angel Theatre/RSC
Two word sum up: Puppets rock!
The more sophisticated version: The puppets really rock.
I’ve finally seen a Shakespeare directed by Gregory Doran that I liked! I think that has a lot to do with the puppets, but I also think that because the show is only an hour long, I wasn’t going to get bored. Yes, it’s true, I can be bored to tears by Shakespeare too. Unfortunately, until now, this has happened with every one of the plays that I’ve seen directed by Doran. I don’t know what it is about his direction that I haven’t taken to, maybe the actors speak too slowly, maybe he takes his time getting through scenes, I don’t know. But something about his productions drags for me, even with this short piece, I felt I had been in the theatre for much longer than an hour.
The text: Yup, fine, can’t do much harm there, they included the dedication with a puppet of Shakespeare scribbling away in the foreground and a marionette of his patron in the back. The poem itself was narrated by John Hopkins who, dressed in stage blacks, sat to the side of the stage on a stool and was softly lit through out.
The set: There were two sections – a pros-arch puppet stage and a tall rostra set out in front. The stage bit held the marionettes and the rostra was for the much larger hand and rod puppets. The two stages gave a great sense of perspective and particularly worked well with Venus’ entrance and exit to the story, both handled at the back of the stage with her marionette double.
The puppets: Gorgeous, obviously. Both Venus and Adonis appeared to be made out of materials that suit their character. Adonis was made out of wood which you could hear clop whenever he touched the stage, Venus was made of soft materials possibly leather or vinyl, she looked beautiful and soft. There were five puppeteers operating all of the puppets, ranging from small marionettes (Venus and her chariot being pulled by doves) to large (around 3/4 human size) doll and rod puppets and even the proscenium arch of the set became a giant puppet of Death.
This was a very sweet production and I’ve very glad that I saw it. I definitely want to see something a bit braver with puppets, while magical, it also felt safe. I’m going to see the Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes in a few weeks, which I believe had excellent reviews in AK07, I think that may be just what I’m looking for.