OUR RATING: Do It!
Encounter the brilliance of Italian piazzas and the wonder of celebration in San Marco Square as The Spectators’ Guild’s carnival parade leads you through the streets of maritime Greenwich to Paynes & Borthwick Wharf – a bustling Venetian metropolis. Welcome to The Most Serene Republic and the site for Thomas Otway’s tale of corruption, friendship and love.
Adam: As masked revelers flit past me, exchanging tales of what is to come excitedly while waving the flag bearing the Lion of St. Mark, one is immediately plunged into the vivacious and watery carnival atmosphere. Moving between elaborate sets, sometimes sitting, sometimes standing and always experiencing, the audience is captivated by Charlotte Westenra’s immaculate presentation of this classic tale.
For a 17th century Restorationist play, Venice Preserv’d explores the extremely current topics of mega-wealth, the corrupt elite and whether violence is a solution to a nation’s ills. Indeed, Venice is often used as an apt parallel for London, and while Otway was merely hinting at such analogies, The Spectators’ Guild is explicit (after all, the site for the production is an under-construction series of pluto-flats).
The torn Jaffeir (Ashley Zhangazha) must choose between committing an act of mass murder (terrorism? freedom fighting?) against the Senate of Venice at the bidding of his friend Pierre (Ferdinand Kingsley), or spare them at the urging of his wife Belvedera (Jessie Buckley), whose father just happens to be a senator himself – Priuli (Emilio Doorgasingh – whom you may remember from the latest season of Game of Thrones). Powerfully delivered lines immerse you in the world of greed tempered by honour – thrillingly brilliant!
The City of Bridges is brought even closer by the carefully curated elements that let you know The Spectators’ Guild is one to watch. Pounds are exchanged for authentically reproduced ducats (at least to this partially trained eye), while delicious Italian wine flows freely into magnificent goblets. The only drawback to the fare on offer was the food, but when you consider the spectacular and heartfelt effort put into the rest of the work this slight oversight seems of little importance.
Alicia: At the start of the performance I was a little wary, with the gathering point and the long promenade through the streets of Greenwich a little more slight than I expected. Yet, it is worth noting the level of interaction mandated by such an extensive parade route, and it was ultimately enticing to see the integration of a Venetian world into the threads of the local area, from gondolas gliding through Deptford’s waters to a pedal-powered Popemobile navigating the pedestrian walkways. It was always lovely to see such spontaneous interaction between the performers and any locals we encountered, and the actors were not afraid to change things up a little and think on their feet.
Yet, the entire endeavour would have been brought to the next level if the audience had been pushed more to come in costume. I was over-the-moon to see that the company suggests more affordable options at costuming, mirroring the economically accessible ticket prices (such a world of difference from Punchdrunk and Secret Cinema), and it was finally great to see a company like this collaborate with costume and transportation companies to facilitate the audience experience. Yet, no one really dressed up at all, making the experience a little weaker than it otherwise could have been.
All of this aside, the night just kept getting better and better, with great set integration into the venue by Helen Scarlett O’Neill with a lovely mix of Venetian luxury, industrial simplicity and awe-inspiring installations. This paired with moving performances from both Buckley and Zhangazha, this show is definitely an amazing collaboration between classic stagecraft and site responsive event theatre.
Final Thoughts: Be sure to check out the company’s videos on making ruffs, headdresses and capes from anything from bin bags to plastic to complement your journey to the Venetian canals. Ultimately, Venice Preserv’d is an electrifying and rebellious piece of site specific theatre interspersed with elements from the commedia dell’arte and infused with spectacular showmanship.
P.S.: If you’d like to take a look over the script, here’s a great edition to pick up: Venice Preserv’d