Friday 14 September 2018

Losing Venice @ The Orange Tree Theatre

Losing Venice @ The Orange Tree Theatre

“But this country. This country we so dearly love, is she admired? She used to be. She used to be great, used to be respected, used to be feared. But now what part do we play in the world?”

This quote could conceivably be a present day comment on the state of our nation. Instead it’s taken from this revival of Jo Clifford’s 1985 play Losing Venice. Set in the Spanish Golden Age of the 17th century, it explores issues of gender, masculinity and the downfall of a nation – performed in 2018 it is bizarrely prophetic.

The narrative centres on a Spanish Duke (Tim Delap) and his poet Quevado (Christopher Logan). Following his marriage, the Duke grows restless and weary of his new wife (Florence Roberts) and so, through a desperate desire to prove himself, sets out to take over Venice from the Italians. But playing with timeframes, director Paul Miller and designer Jess Curtis blur the lines between historically accurate costumes and a vivid, 80s punk sensibility that lends the production a rebellious and disruptive spirit. That continues with Terry Davies’ music that uses both electric guitar and mandolin.

The first half offers an intriguing exploration of gender, through some witty dialogue and amusing double entendres. As a critique of masculinity it works – pathetic, gullible and inadequate - though its female characters seem thinly drawn by comparison. More intriguing still is that Clifford’s experience as a transgender woman has over time surely coloured the play’s gender politics.

In the second half, though, the production doesn’t just lose Venice but the audience too. On arriving in the Italian city, the characters embark on a surreal journey through sewers and dark candlelit hallways, led my mysterious religious figures. It’s just not clear what it all represents, meaning the initial battle of the sexes soon falls apart.

It remains, though, an engaging watch. The unique aesthetic and strong performances do somewhat pull it all together – Delap’s crotch thrusting Duke is a tumbling pillar of masculinity, Logan flaps amusingly as the poet, and Eleanor Fanyinka gives a more grounded performance as servant Maria. But we’re ultimately left in the lurch – which is another fitting and prescient parallel to today’s political indecisions.


Watch: Losing Venice runs at the Orange Tree Theatre until 20th October.

Losing Venice @ The Orange Tree Theatre
Photos: Helen Maybanks