The Spectators’ Guild’s intriguing staging of Thomas Otway’s Venice Preserv’d takes place in Greenwich, with the Paynes and Borthwick wharf standing in for Venice. It has received mixed reviews, most of which are critical of the pre-show carnival from the Cutty Sark: as a solo theatregoer I skipped this part and made my own way to the set, but I’m certainly pleased I didn’t forego the whole thing.
The wharf has been beautifully transformed into a carnivalesque Venetian setting. The action begins on a platform outdoors, overlooking the Thames. As the evening draws in and the air gets cooler, the audience follow the actors into the sheltered courtyard, where a bridge has been constructed, and from there into the building itself. The immersive nature of the show leads to some nice touches: the tavern in one room transforms into a working bar during the interval, and in another scene audience members don red cloaks and form part of the senate.
The plot is complex, but gripping. Jaffier (Ashley Zhangazha) is in financial difficulty after marrying without the consent of his wife’s senator father; his friend Pierre (Ferdinand Kingsley) tries to involve him in a plot to dispatch the entire corrupt Venetian senate, but his indecision leads to tragedy. The actors are all superb, particularly Jessie Buckley, who plays Jaffier’s wife Belvidera.
This play about money-obsessed, corrupt Venetian government feels particularly contemporary when staged opposite the City of London, with its looming skyscrapers. I was very impressed with this production – a daring venture that proved hugely atmospheric.