You feel as if you are transported right into the heart of a action movie in the RSC’s production of Venice Preserved. This restoration thriller is a political play told in a completely exhilarating way.
The show is rarely staged but has distinct parallels with the world we live in. Covering sex, politics and betrayal, ultimately it’s a play about conspiracy. When Pierre, Jaffeir’s close friend persuades him to join a conspiracy to overthrow the Venetian Senate, they join a revolution against the leaders of their failed city. It’s also a passionate love story between Jaffeir and Belvidera, the daughter of the senator. They fall in love and get married in secret so she becomes disinherited by her oppressive father.
Director Prasanna Puwanarajah has lifted the narrative into the 80s, complete with power suits and lots of denim. It’s an edgy take on a story that has so many twists and turns. With a big cast that capture the intensity of the drama. Designer James Cotterill and lighting designer Jack Knowles have done a superb job enhancing the action-thriller aesthetic and it’s a visual feast for the eyes. The special effects are what makes this show such a spectacle and any fan of cinematic action films would be encapsulated by this production.
Whilst the show is captivating, director Puwanarajah has made some interesting choices. The S&M fetish scenes between the Senator played by John Hodgkinson and Natalie Drew feel awkward and dated. There are humorous moments, but I feel it’s taken too far and the black leather all-in-one with sections cut out felt too much for the story. Whilst he asserts his nature as a sexual predator, it doesn’t feel essential to the story and is uncomfortable to watch because it feels so bizarrely placed in the show.
Venice Preserved is like nothing I’ve ever seen at the RSC and it’s fantastic to see that breaking boundaries to bring innovative productions to their stage. Although it’s an old story, it’s a mesmerising revival that transports it into modern times. It’s an ambitious production and despite a few hit and miss moments, ultimately the cast bring an exceptional performance.
Jodie McNee is excellent as Belvidera and she brings real conviction to the role. Her performance has you on the edge of your seat and her final monologue is completely compelling as she commands the whole audience with her emotional precision. McNee packs a real punch and carries the story as we go on the journey of her trauma with her.
The RSC’s Venice Preserved propels the high-drama of this Restoration revenge tragedy into an invigorating modern thriller with a bold 80s twist.
Venice Preserved is on at the RSC’s Swan Theatre until the 7th of September. Tickets and information can be found on their website.